Our impact, their voices

Social dialogue, a key to business survival and resilience in Viet Nam

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on Viet Nam’s garment, footwear and handbag industry, with almost one-in-four workers losing their jobs. The ILO in Viet Nam has been supporting its partners to foster social dialogue in businesses, to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable workers.

Feature | 13 August 2020
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bich (with mic) speaks to workers at a dialogue at Regina company
HAI PHONG, VIET NAM (ILO News) – While Viet Nam has been enjoying a largely pandemic-free environment, the country’s ready-made garment sector is still struggling with the aftermath.

Social distancing, followed by cancelled orders and delayed payments, have caused major disruptions in the sector. Many firms had to take measure to stay afloat, including reductions in working hours, benefits cuts and lay-offs.

According to VITAS (Viet Nam Textile and Apparel Association) and Lefaso (Viet Nam Leather, Footwear and Handbag Association), more than 1 million garment, footwear and handbags workers – out of a total 4.3 million – have lost their jobs, while others have had their income reduced by 40 per cent. A rash of strikes have broken out in factories as workers are not happy with management’s handling of the crisis.

However, Regina Viet Nam, a garment company from Hai Phong City employing more than 31,000 workers, has managed to deal with the challenges caused by the global pandemic, while maintaining stable labour relations within its five factories.

“Social dialogue has kept us from falling apart,” explains Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bich, Human Resources Manager at the company.

A path to survival

Following ILO Better Work programme guidance on working arrangements during COVID-19, Regina’s management organized multiple rounds of consultations with trade union representatives and used various platforms to engage with workers.

These consultations led to negotiated agreements on measures that have kept all workers in their jobs. These included partial paid leave, overtime cuts and no more Saturday work.

“For workers, losing jobs at this particular time would be a disaster,” says Vu Dinh Phi, the company’s trade union chair. “I am pleased that the workers and the management reached agreements through open talks to help both sides survive this crisis.”

“As Regina Viet Nam is facing its hardest time since its opening in 2014, it is important that management and workers understand each other. Dialogue helps us address industrial relations’ challenges, which are inevitable during and after such a crisis,” explains Bich.

According to a survey organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 58 enterprises in Viet Nam, over 60 per cent of manufacturing companies took measures affecting workers without prior consultation or only with unit managers.

A pillar of crisis recovery

In its policy framework for tackling the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the ILO highlights social dialogue as one of four pillars for recovery.

“Social dialogue between workers’ and employers’ representatives helps the enterprise make a balanced decision which responds to the needs of workers in a transparent and fair manner. As such, it helps not only stabilize workplace labour relations but also improve the commitment of workers to the success of enterprises at this unprecedented difficult time,” says ILO Viet Nam Director, Chang-Hee Lee, adding that “Starting the social dialogue process as early as possible maximizes its impact.”

In Viet Nam, social dialogue was first introduced in the 2012 Labour Code and was strengthened in the revised version of the Code in 2019.

“Social dialogue provisions in the 2019 Labour Code are much better and more detailed than in the 2012 version. Still, at the enterprise level, we need concrete guidance to implement it well,” says Bich.

The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs is now in the process of drafting a decree providing guidelines to promote and facilitate social dialogue in the workplace, with the technical support of another ILO project, the New Industrial Relations Framework (NIRF) programme. The decree – much awaited by employers and workers – should be issued by the end of 2020. 

For further information, please contact

Tran Quynh Hoa
ILO Communication Officer
hoahancom@ilo.org