ILO Viet Nam Director: Enhancing social dialogue towards a safety and health culture

ILO Viet Nam Director, Ingrid Christensen, addresses the National Occupational Safety and Health Council Dialogue organized in Hanoi to mark the 2022 Safety and Health Day at Work.

Statement | 28 April 2022
ILO Viet Nam Director, Ingrid Christensen, addresses the National Occupational Safety and Health Council Dialogue.
Today we mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, 28 April, a day the world promotes and highlights the importance of safety and health at work. But it is also the Workers’ Memorial Day, the day when workers remember the colleagues who have lost their lives to occupational accidents and diseases during the year. Regrettably, occupational accidents and diseases are still a reality even in the modern world of 2022. In fact, about an estimated 3 million die every year due to an occupational accident at their workplace or a work-related disease due to an exposure, which sometimes happened many years before. In addition, hundreds of millions fall sick due to their work or suffer from occupational injuries. Nonetheless, much progress and many achievements have been made in recent decades, - also here in Viet Nam, where the important Law on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) adopted in 2015 immediately comes to my mind – but with the many accidents and diseases still happening, we need to do more.

I want to congratulate National OSH Council for taking initiatives to all these events on the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work and I know you will continue into the Safety and Health Month in Viet Nam. Thanks for your policy guidance on safety and health. More generally, I also wish to congratulate the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and the social partners, VCCI, VGCL and VCA for the long-term leadership in improving the safety and health in Viet Nam, noting also your very active participation in the ASEAN OSHNET and other ASEAN forums in safety and health.

Every year the World Day for Safety and Health comes with a theme, and this year the Day focuses on enhancing social dialogue towards a culture of safety and health.

Social dialogue refers to all types of negotiations, consultations, and exchange of information between representatives of workers, employers and governments and other actors on common issues.
This is the most effective ways of reconciling competing interests, designing or implementing policies and laws, or just creating a common understanding. Social dialogue has for long been a powerful and well recognized tool in the field of safety and health at work, and accordingly the principle is enshrined in the International Labour Standards on OSH, including the two key Conventions C155 (Occupational Safety and Health Convention) and C187 (Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Heath Convention), and which both were ratified by Viet Nam. Social dialogue can take different forms. It can be bipartite e.g. at workplaces, it can be tripartite or even tripartite+ e.g. during national consultations. It can be formal or institutionalized such as a safety and health committee meeting or when the National OSH Council convenes, but social dialogue is also when an owner and his or her employee at one of Viet Nam’s famous small street restaurants talk to each other about how they best organize the work, including how the inhalation of the fume from the frying pan can be avoided or perhaps more recently, which personal protective equipment to use for protecting themselves against the COVID-19 virus.

The importance of social dialogue in addressing safety and health has been recognized during the COVID-19 pandemic, but equally important for many other topics that came to the forefront during the pandemic, including measures relating to employment or income security, business continuity, teleworking, social protection and so on.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers, employers and governments in many countries have collaborated to develop workplace policies and strategies to protect people from the virus and other related risks. This year the Day highlights the importance of social dialogue to promote a positive occupational safety and health culture.

The report, which the ILO has issued on the occasion of the Day, now available on ILO website, showed that when workers, employers and governments worked together, they pooled their knowledge and experience to implement policies and interventions that helped safeguard workers – and businesses as well - throughout the crisis.

We often hear about the preventative safety and health culture - a culture in which the right to a safe and healthy working environment, where employers, workers and governments work together to secure a safe and healthy working environment and where the principle of prevention is accorded the highest priority. But what does it take to build a preventative – and positive - safety and health culture at the workplace level? Apart from what I just mentioned, a positive safety and health culture is built on open communication and dialogue between employers and workers. Workers should feel comfortable voicing their concerns about possible hazards and risks at the workplace and management must actively address those issues. A respectful and open dialogue is also a prerequisite for effective dialogues at national or global level.

During the pandemic crisis, several examples have emerged. As shared in the report, in Canada for instance, workers’ and employers’ representatives worked together to create COVID-19 mitigation plans, including screening processes and contract tracing. In South Africa, discussions among representatives from employers, workers and governments led to measures to reduce the spread of the virus at the workplaces. In Italy, the social partners in the banking sector created detailed rules on telework, including the right to privacy and the right to disconnect. And we don’t need to go that far away. In Pakistan, the Government after some consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations issued several SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) to prevent the spreading of the virus, so that enterprises or businesses could continue most of their work; and many workers could continue having a job and an income. Last, but not least, I am aware of the many efforts made in Viet Nam, such as the collaboration with our Better Work Programme to ensure business continuity and safety and health for workers in the Vietnamese garment and footwear sectors during the pandemic and in the recovery phase.

The electronics sector in Viet Nam, as another example of a sector that was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for which the Government in collaboration and dialogue with the key stakeholders designed measures to control the virus spread in these factories. ILO is also supporting initiatives that facilitate the social dialogue concerning resilient recovery of this important supply chain.

What difference does it make when workers promote OSH? When workers take part in promoting safe and healthy workplaces, studies suggest that it reduces the risk of accidents. As the report refers to, it was found that workplaces with higher worker engagement reported 64 per cent fewer safety incidents and 58 per cent lower in hospitalization rate. Work-related injuries and diseases must be prevented. Building a culture of prevention through social dialogue will contribute to healthy workforces, productive enterprises and sustainable economies.

Going back to Viet Nam and beyond the pandemic, the WIND methodology addressing safety and health in the agricultural sector, often in informal employment, and which has its roots in Viet Nam, and today is or has been used in a number of countries, is an example of an approach that builds heavily on social dialogue at community level and in the informal economy. Currently we are working with our partners to adapt this methodology to the coffee sector.

Moreover, I wish to highlight that both women and men should have access to or be part of the various social dialogue forums. Encouraging women participation is a key feature of the WIND approach.
But social dialogue and with active participation of employers’ and workers’ organizations, in addition to the Government, can also be effective in identifying the nature and extent of the safety and health challenges in the informal economy and then designing, implementing, and evaluating policies and programme of relevance to the informal economy workers.

Finally, I once again congratulate the National OSH Council on taking initiative to organize this event and I wish it all a success.

Xin Cam on