FES has conducted an interview with Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Ha, Labour Relation Department - Vietnam General Confederation of Labour to get a better insight into the situation.
1. Since the onset of Covid-19, have Trade Union undertakings been affected and what has Trade Union done to support the employees?
According to reports from provincial- and city-level trade unions, as well as national industrial unions, as of April 2020 nearly 5 million employees have been impacted by Covid-19. Of those, 59 percent have been furloughed, 28 percent have had their work reduced or required to take leave in alternating groups, and 13 percent have been laid off. This impact has hit in particular the sectors of tourism, accommodation services, food and beverages, textiles, and leather.
Faced with this situation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour has instructed unions at different levels to implement certain actions and recommended measures, in the spirit of the government statement that ”fighting this disease is like fighting against enemies".
Head personnel of the General Confederation have undertaken scoping trips in cities and provinces to check the curbing of the spread of the disease, and to buoy employees’ spirits. They have also encouraged employees and union members to support the nation-wide call against Covid-19 with tens of billions of dong donated (the General Confederation itself donated 2 billion dong). They have also visited and paid regard to the Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control . As of now, an estimated tens of billions of Dong and millions of face masks, hand sanitizers and soaps have been collected and given to employees.
Given the difficulties in businesses’ production and trading, the General Confederation of Labour has issued delayed the date for submission of Trade Union fees for businesses affected by Covid-19. A number of city and provincial labour confederations have organized meetings to take in opinions and suggestions in supporting affected union members.
Various local unions have utilized trade union funds to support workers, campaigned for landlords to waive or decrease rents and utility fees. At the time of writing, more than 1,000 landlords have committed to reducing monthly rents by 10-15 percent for two or three months, a reduction worth more than 7 billion dong. The General Labour Confederation has founded working groups to research and evaluate the impact of the disease upon the work and livelihood of employees, union members and trade unions. It has also made recommendations of solutions for supporting those impacted.
Many local unions have proactively worked with employers to implement preventative and curbing measures. These include ensuring food hygiene in canteens, furloughing employees on a rotating basis, encouraging employees to use their annual leave quote, and making practical work arrangements so that employees can take care of their children when schools are closed. Local unions have also campaigned for employers to pay 70 percent of normal salaries to quarantined employees, or to apply annual leave, to ensure that their earnings are not lower than the region-based minimum wages.
2. What challenges or difficulties has the Trade Union had to face in providing support to employees during this pandemic?
In the process of working alongside the authorities, businesses and employees to follow legal regulations and instructions pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic, trade unions at various levels would like to provide feedback on some challenges and hardships as follows:
1. No detailed instruction has been given regarding the suspension of payments to the retirement and survivor allowance fund as prescribed in Article 88 of the Law on social insurance, causing difficulties in implementing this policy.
2. Providing relief packages for furloughed or laid-off staff has been a meaningful and important measure of the government. This measure has, however, been seen as an excuse for certain businesses to not attempt to seek solutions and maintain production – instead, they have opted for laying off staff en masse.
3. According to the government decree 42/NQ-CP issued on 9 April 2020 pertaining to measures for supporting citizens impacted by Covid-19, two groups of employees that can apply for relief packages include:
- Contract employees furloughed for one month or longer without pay, by businesses unable to pay salaries due to the pandemic, will be provided with 1.8 million dong per person per month. This will be applied from 1 April 2020 and not exceeding three months.
- Employees with their contracts terminated but not entitled to unemployment benefits, or those laid off from jobs with no contracts, will be provided with 1 million dong per person per month for a period not exceeding three months. Payout period ranges from April to June 2020.
However, the Decree has left out some groups as follows:
(1) Teachers of non-public schools, especially nursery teachers who have been furloughed since before April 2020.
(2) Employees who take leave on an alternating basis for one to three days a week in order to satisfy the requirement for social insurance contribution.
(3) Employees who have been laid off as per Point 3 of Item 98 in the Labour Laws, wherein the final salaries were lower than regional minimum wages, as such rendering them ineligible for the government’s relief packages. This is in contrast to furloughed or laid-off staff who receive some relief funds from businesses (not seen as salaries) and are still entitled to the government’s relief packages. The situation implies inequality and if the policy is not explained clearly, there might be risks of it being taken advantage of.
(4) For contract staff who are furloughed for 14 days or longer with no salaries, businesses do not have to pay their part of health and social insurances. In fact, businesses that want to contribute to their employees’ health insurances are not allowed to do so, as Health Insurance laws maintains that these employees will make contributions as part of their households. This can impact upon health insurance rights of employees, and result in the re-registration for health insurance when employees restart work at the end of the furlough period.