Labour migration

Trade unions should play a bigger role in ensuring safe labour migration

It is important that Viet Nam’s legislation strengthens the role of trade unions in representing and protecting migrant workers, as well as in formulation of laws, policies and programmes.

Press release | 18 June 2018
HANOI – Trade unions have expressed the need to have a tripartite mechanism, which includes the Government, trade unions and employers, in labour migration governance.

The proposal was made at the policy consultation on the “Role of trade unions in promoting fair recruitment and decent work for migrant workers” co-organized by the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Asia Foundation in Hanoi on 18 June.

“As the representative organization protecting legitimate rights of workers, VGCL cares for the jobs, incomes and rights of Vietnamese migrant workers, as well as wants to ensure the fair recruitment and decent work for workers working overseas under contracts, and support them when they return home,” said VGCL Vice President, Tran Van Ly.

According to VGCL, it is important to amend the Law on Vietnamese workers working abroad under contract to strengthen the role of trade unions in representing and protecting migrant workers, as well as in formulation of laws, policies and programmes.

The law, known as Law 72, took effect in 2007, is now under review for amendments.

“Migration flows should be governed through tripartite dialogue and structures among the Government, trade unions and employers, at the national, regional and global levels,” said ILO Viet Nam Director Chang-Hee Lee. “Trade unions are the workers’ voice in the tripartite structure of the ILO. Without this strong voice, the “triple win” – where migration benefits employers, workers and the State – is not possible.”

According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, around 134,000 Vietnamese workers left the country for overseas jobs under contract in 2017. Taiwan (China), Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are the top destinations for Viet Nam’s labour migration. Every year, an increasing number of women migrate abroad, many to take up jobs in domestic work, including in Saudi Arabia.

A recent ILO research showed that 76 per cent of Vietnamese migrant workers to Malaysia and Thailand experienced some forms of labour rights violation and had limited access to legal remedies during employment. Few joined trade unions in destination.

The same study indicated that reliable information on how to migrate regularly and reduce the risks of migration is generally unavailable to Vietnamese migrant workers, with only one in three receiving reliable information that could inform the decision to migrate.

Compared to migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao PDR, Vietnamese workers paid the most in migration costs. Paying more for migration and often borrowing those funds makes migrant workers more vulnerable to debt bondage and human trafficking.

“Local authorities, particularly VGCL’s local network of staff holding leadership positions in ward and commune- level People’s Committees can play a critical role as community-based communicators and counsellors on safe migration for potential migrant workers and their family members” said the Asia Foundation Country Representatives, Michael R. DiGregorio.

“They are, however, not instructed and equipped with enough knowledge and skills to provide pre-departure safe migration education for communities they serve.”

At the national level, VGCL has increased its engagement in tripartite discussions on labour migration policies and law development. In addition to the review report and recommendations on Law 72, trade unions were also involved in discussion and development of the regulations relating to complaint mechanisms for migrant workers, standard contracts, the use of migrant welfare fund, and the issuance of administrative fines and sanctions for law violations.

In 2015, VGCL and the Malaysian Trade Union Congress signed a Memorandum of Understanding that covers a range of important issues to better protect migrant workers.

In Viet Nam, the ILO provides support for safe labour migration through the TRIANGLE in ASEAN programme with funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Global Affairs Canada. TRIANGLE in ASEAN delivers technical assistance and support with the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in the ASEAN region.

The Asia Foundation also partnered with VGCL to run the project “Promoting protection of labour rights for overseas migrant workers” with financial support from US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to build capacity for trade union grassroots officers to provide safe migration and workers’ rights information and counselling to potential migrant workers and their family members. The project also supports three employment service centres in Phu Tho, Thanh Hoa and Quang Ngai to provide job placement services for the returning migrant workers.