Vietnam – 90,000 workers strike over social security

09.04.2015

A weeklong strike at a Taiwanese owned factory in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, producing for among others Nike and Adidas has come to an end after the government agreed to hold off suggested changes to the social insurance coverage.

90,000 workers went on strike after the Vietnamese government suggested changes to the social insurance coverage, starting next year. The changes would mean that workers would lose the possibility of a one-time immediate payment when leaving a job for whatever reason; instead they would be paid a monthly allowance at retirement age.

The retirement age in Vietnam is 55 for women and 60 for men.

According to the suggested new law workers have to accumulate 20 years of social security payments to be eligible to a retirement pay after having reached the retirement age. If 20 years are not accumulated they will still receive the lump sum, but only after having reached the retirement age.

Most of the workers in the garment or electronic companies work long hours, up to 50-60 hours per week. In the workers’ own estimates they will not be able to accumulate more than 20 years of payment, as they will return to their villages once they have acquired enough funds for a life there. There is also a distrust in the Social Security Fund to make the future payments.

The prospect of losing the lump sum, which is also used to tie workers over between employments, triggered the demonstrations. The peaceful strike saw workers protest inside the factory, as well as march along one of the highways. 

A week into the strike, vice labour minister Doan Mau Diep suggested that the National Assembly revise the suggested provision and come up with a solution where the workers have a choice; either get the package immediately after leaving a job, or stay in the system and receive the benefits after retirement.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, says that although this strike seems to be resolved, it shows a need for improved social dialogue in order to find long-term solutions for building a sustainable social insurance system in Vietnam. 

A work stoppage of this magnitude sends a strong signal to the government, employers and unions. Workers have high expectations for better lives and they want to be treated fairly. As the Vietnamese unions have wished, IndustriALL will continue training workshops to help them build their capacity on defending workers’ interests and negotiating strong collective agreements.