Skyrocketing inflation, which hit 25 percent year-on-year last month, has outpaced wage increases and fueled strikes.
Workers have also staged walkouts against work overloads, poor benefits and harsh disciplinary actions. Workers also often went on strike because they were not being paid on time, had poor working conditions or had to deal with other problems such as verbal abuse from managers.
Many of the strikes have occurred in foreign companies, with workers citing communication problems with non-Vietnamese managers -- among other things.
But the workers aren't looking to their unions for help or leadership.
According to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), all of the strikes seen this year were spontaneous without the trade unions’ leadership (and thus "illegal").
Where are the unions?
As companies’ union officials are on company payroll, most of them would rather not risk losing their salaries to lead strikes.
Oh, that's where they are.
Truong Thi Mai, Director of the Committee on Social Affairs, speculated last June that maybe the “unions have been on the business owners’ side, not the workers’.”
VGCL Vice Chairman, Mai Duc Chinh, said earlier this summer that under the current regulations, only grassroots trade unions have the right to organise strikes, but this regulation is unrealistic because there is no mechanism to protect trade union leaders and most employers don’t "positively cooperate with trade unions."
Most leaders of grassroots trade unions assume many jobs so they don’t have much time for this job. Their skills as trade union leaders are also very poor, Chinh said.
Members of the National Assembly Committee for Social Affairs, tasked with finding solutions to the growing number of walkouts in Vietnam, in August slammed the unions for their failure to gain the trust of workers who preferred to stage illegal walkouts rather than negotiate labor disputes through the unions.
Vietnam has some of the strongest labor laws in the world. Under the Communist system, workers in every factory are required be represented by the official government union within a few months of opening.
The truth however is that especially since the influx of private companies started a few years ago, enforcement of the policy has been lax.
One 23 year old worker by the name of Huong, 23, has worked for Freetrend for five years. She makes more than the minimum wage but says that is barely enough to pay for her boarding house bed near the factory.
She says low wages aren't the only thing making workers unhappy. ''The work is very tiring," she says. "The food the company serves us is not enough. It's not cooked well and does not taste good so the workers do not have enough energy to work."
Huong is critical of her bosses. ''We're always on guard at work," she told IPS. ''The officials yell and swear at us and mistreat workers."
The following is from the Vietnam News Agency.
Trade unions are failing to protect their workers
Trade unions are not doing enough to protect the rights of workers, according to a conference in Ha Noi yesterday.
Concern over the lack of help for dissatisfied workers from their unions comes as strikes are escalating across the nation.
Participants at the conference on labour protection solutions organised by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour heard that trade unions across the nation should play a greater role in protecting the rights and interests of employees in order to limit the increasing number of labour disputes and strikes in Viet Nam.
Reports tabled at the conference said strikes usually occurred at individual enterprises, as opposed to collective strikes by workers across an entire sector, and most strikes were not carried out according to official procedures. Under Vietnamese law, strike organisers must get official permission to launch a strike.
In 2007, there were 541 strikes across the country, 150 more than in 2006.
In the first three months of this year, there were nearly 300 strikes, many taking place without negotiations or legal procedures and orders.
The strikes always occurred at the time when the consumer price index experienced sharp rises, at the end of the solar new year and before and after lunar new year. At these times many labourers faced mounting difficulties including low pay, poor work conditions and a lack of adequate accommodation.
Director of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour’s Law Department, Le Thanh Khuong, said there were many reasons for the strikes, including the fact that employers had violated labour laws as well as commitments and agreements with labourers. In addition, there were still some shortcomings and weaknesses in the State’s management of the issue.
Khuong said labourers saw strikes as the first option rather than as an option that should only be considered after negotiation and dialogue fails. Many did not even wait for support from local trade unions before launching strikes, as local trade unions’ capacity to represent and protect labourers was still weak.
Deputy Chairman of HCM City Federation of Labour, Truong Lam Danh, said broken promises on salaries, work hours and conditions had led to strikes.
The participants agreed that trade unions needed to do better in helping workers, and should boost dissemination and guidance on labour laws for labourers.
Participants at the conference also said labour unions needed to gain the trust of workers.