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Wednesday, 22 April 2020 22:18
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Some issues in performing the functions of trade union when Vietnam participates in CPTPP

(LLCT) - On March 8th, 2018, Vietnam signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with the representatives from 10 other member countries. On January 14th, 2019, CTPPP took effect in Vietnam. The signing of this Agreement opened a lot of opportunities as well as challenges for trade union organizations. This article clarifies the functions of trade unions and shows the difficulties and challenges they face, this article also mentions some solutions to further promote the role of trade unions in gathering and protecting the benefits of their members in the future.

Keywords: Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Vietnam Trade Union.

1. The political and legal position of the Vietnam Trade Unions

The Vietnam Trade Union is the largest socio-political organization of the Vietnamese working class and laborers, and it is a member of the political system representing the benefits of the working class, intellectuals, and laborers. Trade unions are led by the Communist Party of Vietnam; it is a bridge between the Party and the people to mobilize and organize the people to implement the guidelines and paths of the Party as well as reflect the thoughts and aspirations of the people to the Party.  This view consolidates the close relationship between the Party and the people. In the present context, many issues of the working class such as life, employment, salary, level, experience, etc. pose new requirements for trade unions. V.I.Lenin affirmed: “For the industrial proletariat, a trade union is not only a historically essential organization but also a historically integral organization, and in the condition of proletarian dictatorship, that organization includes most of industrial proletariat”(1). He stressed: “I come to the conclusion that the role is very special. On the one hand, a trade union gathers and includes all industrial workers in its organization, and it is an organization of the ruling, dominating, and power assuming class which is implementing dictatorship and state mandate”(2).

The requirements are to build a strong trade union organization that becomes the center to gather, unite, and educate the working class to implement the paths and guidelines of the Party successfully. If a trade union organization is strong, it can easily fulfill the role of inspecting, supervising, and preventing negative and corrupt manifestations promptly. It is also a measure to enhance the Party’s leadership over the working class and improve the nature of the working class of the Party. Building strong trade unions is the responsibility of the Party, State, and social organizations, where the Party’s leadership is the decisive factor.

Aware of this issue, the Vietnam Trade Union always identifies its responsibilities in making the Party and working class firm in the new period. With its position, the Trade Union encourage the members participate in contributing comments to build and protect the Party. The Trade Union is also the place for educating and training outstanding people to introduce them to the Party and actively petition the Party executive committee to renovate leadership methods and the political system as well as take part in the campaign to build and rectify the Party. Entering the 21st century, building, developing, and enhancing the nature of the working class should meet the requirements for two of the pivotal causes for the country, industrialization and modernization. Trade Unions should also maintain and promote the Party’s leadership and implement state management roles and functions. For the working class, building and developing the working class are the first and foremost internal mission and requirement of the working class and worker movement through the trade union organization and Party organization at the higher level. The working class and trade union organization actively builds forces and development potential in conjunction with mobilizing all the efforts and responsibilities of society. Improving the nature of the working class of the Party cannot be separated from building a transparent and strong ruling Party with a socialist law-ruled state and a renovated and dynamic political system. To do so, there should be important changes in awareness of the whole Party, people, and society as the basis for real changes in the practical actions of the working class. Trade union organizations have power, influence, and prestige in society and deserve the role and position of the working class today. Since the Party holds the power, the Party cannot maintain and enhance its nature of the working class if trade unions are worsened or improperly invested.

As Vietnam increasingly integrates into the world economy, given the new economic mechanism, trade unions are not only a bridge between the Party and the working class but also are real representatives of workers and the “shock absorber” for clashes and conflicts arising in social relationships between the working class and labor users - owners. According to current regulations, the Vietnam Trade Union follows basic functions to represent: staff, civil servants, officials, workers, and other laborers (hereinafter referred to as laborers) along with State agencies, economic organizations, and social organizations. They are also responsible for taking care of and protect the lawful and legitimate rights and benefits of working people; to participate in State management, socio-economic management, inspection, and supervision over the operations of the State agencies, organizations, units, and enterprises; to communicate and mobilize working people to learn, improve professional level and skills, abide law, build, and protect Vietnam(3).

The functions of trade unions as a whole focus on protecting the lawful and legitimate rights and benefits of laborers this is the operating target of trade unions. From these functions, the specific missions of trade unions will be defined.

The 2012 Trade Union Law specifies:

Article 10. To represent and protect the lawful and legitimate rights and benefits of laborers

1. To guide and consult laborers about their rights and obligations when contracting and implementing labor contracts and working contracts with the employment unit.

2. To represent the collective group of laborers to negotiate, sign, and supervise the implementation of collective labor agreements.

3. To join hands with labor employment units to build and supervise the implementation of the pay scale, payroll, labor norm, pay regulations, reward regulations, and labor regulations.

4. To conduct a dialogue with labor users to solve issues related to the rights and obligations of laborers.

5. To organize legal consultancy activities for laborers.

6. To cooperate with agencies, organizations, and individuals in charge of dealing with labor disputes.

7. To propose that authorized State organizations and agencies should consider and handle when lawful and legitimate rights and benefits of a laborer group or an individual are violated.

8. To represent a laborer group and to sue when lawful and legitimate rights and benefits of the collective group of laborers are violated and to ensure a  laborer can sue when lawful and legitimate rights of the laborer are violated when authorized by the laborer.

9. To represent the collective group of laborers and to participate in the procedure in labor, administration, and business bankruptcy to protect the lawful and legitimate rights and benefits of the collective group of laborers and individual laborers.

10. To organize and lead strikes in accordance with law regulations(4).

2. The issues for Vietnam Trade Unions when CPTPP takes effect

Firstly, the competition from organizations protecting the right of laborers which are not directly under the Vietnam Trade Union.

The Vietnam Trade Union is no longer the only organization to represent laborers when joining CPTPP, and the issues of competing and attracting new members are essential. The development of members and grassroots trade unions will encounter difficulties. The resources to ensure trade union activities, especially financial resources, will be shared and decreased. The working environment of trade union activities changes dramatically because of these complicated developments. The laborers and labor users will choose from many organizations to protect their lawful benefits.

Secondly, to enhance trade union activities by implementing functions, especially the function of protecting laborers.

In fact, trade unions become “administrationized” and lose prestige among workers. Trade unions are socio-political organizations, so they still use budgets. Thus, the relationship between workers, laborers, and trade unions are not often connected because the staff in charge of trade unions are mostly paid from the budget rather than the membership fees like some other countries with a market economy. Therefore, a lot of trade union staff consider themselves civil servants rather than representatives for laborers whose main mission is to protect laborers. This creates distance between laborers and trade unions. Therefore, the relationship between the two sides is usually formal.

Thirdly, retaining the belief of laborers and trade union membership.

Among the functions of a trade union, the function to protect the rights and benefits of laborers is the most important. However, in case of complicated strikes in industrial zones and export processing zones, the role of the trade unions is unclear.  This hesitance in action causes workers to have less trust in trade unions and causes them to think that the trade union is not on their side. In many places, trade unions are inactive and unable to understand workers. This is also the reason why most of the strikes have been illegal by law in recent times.

Fourthly, the concern of labour users about the activities of trade union organizations in enterprises.

Most non-state enterprises (including enterprises with equity capital of Vietnam) have very few Party organizations and Party members because the fear from owners. Employers try to hinder the activities of Party organizations, and so the influence of the Party on workers is very limited. The trade union is the organization that can make important contributions to overcome this situation through its activities by bringing the views, guidelines, and paths of the Party to the working class. The operations of trade unions also encounter a lot of difficulties when labor users do not want enterprise’s operations to be supervised by trade unions. Labor users believe that trade union’s operations are obstacles to production and business activities of enterprises.

On the other hand, the role of trade unions in enterprises, especially non-state enterprises, is very small. Workers lose their belief in trade unions by thinking that the trade union is on the employer’s side instead of protecting the rights of workers because the unions are paid by employers. As a result, workers tend to think that they are abandoned in the struggle for their rights although that struggle is off-limits in many cases.

Fifthly, there are some shortcomings in legal regulations.

When discussing amending the regulations of the Labor Code, many people did not support the idea that leading a strike was the only right of a trade union organization. The reason for this was that trade unions were the organization defending the rights of laborers. However, up until now, there have not been grassroots trade unions in 85% of private enterprises and 65% of foreign direct investment enterprises. Thus, who would come forward as a representative for laborers? Striking is the last measure of laborers when their lawful benefits are violated. However, apart from the absence of trade unions in non-state enterprises, trade unions also tend to be administration led and bureaucratized. Some grassroots trade union organizations do not properly know how to protect the rights of labourers.

In fact, most of the trade union chairmen in enterprises that have Party-led organizations are Party members. The problem is that if they lead the strikes, do they violate the Charter of the Party and how is this solved?

In the context of Vietnam joining CPTPP, it is clear that the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor needs to instruct and guide all levels of trade unions to ensure the protection of benefits for laborers is the essential mission of trade union organizations. It is necessary to be aware of building harmonious relations between entrepreneurs and customers, entrepreneurs and members of enterprise, staff and laborers, and especially in the leadership relationship between the Party, trade union, and directors of enterprise. If these relationships are well built, the enterprise will be stable and develop sustainably. In addition, unity, trust, excitement, and wholehearted devotion of employees will help build the enterprise. During the transitional period to socialism, the working class is no longer oppressed and exploited, they become the political ruling class that leads all of society in the fight to transform the old society and build a new one. It should be noted that many workers who are salary earners in private enterprises participate in ownership along with the rest of the working class as well as individually earning their salary. This explains why we review political awareness manifestations of the working class, their attitude towards owners is also considered. The owners here refer to organizers and production managers in enterprises other than the State and collective sectors. The labor users refer to the organizers and production managers in enterprises belonging to the State and collective sectors. To control the negative consequences of strikes from the beginning, trade unions are required to educate laborers on how to have political awareness and inform attitudes towards labor users, including owners, based on law regulations, especially the Labor Code. Only by understanding the basic articles in the Labor Code can laborers construe their rights and obligations. Understanding the Labor Code provides a basis to build harmonious and stable working relationships. This allows the two groups to work together to develop enterprise and the country. Trade unions must make laborers understand the nature of their relationship with labor users, especially owners. Cooperation with owners is necessary, but both cooperation and struggle should be sensible. Trade unions must make laborers hold a firm and steadfast stance against all trivial material benefits and retain a clear and straight-forward attitude towards the wrong-doings of owners. They must not lose their honor and dignity in exchange for immediate benefits, benefits that make them betray the overall benefits of the working class and all working people. Moreover, working people with substantial political awareness must encourage others to implement law regulations as well as fight against expressions of violations in the relationship between laborers and labour users, including owners, without mercy. This includes employers based on law abidance to combine the benefits harmoniously.

In the process of developing a socialist-oriented market economy, promoting industrialization and modernization of Vietnam, the number of workers in private and foreign direct invested enterprises increases more and more but many of them do not know much about trade union organizations. Most workers in non-state enterprises are still affected by small production with small, random, free business and thinking, a limited education, and a lack of awareness about trade union organizations and self-defense. Many people are afraid that if they participate in a trade union, they will be distrusted and fired by employers. Vice versa, many entrepreneurs are worried that trade unions will oppose enterprise. They are frightened that engaging in both goods production and the activities of trade unions would take too much time. They fear it will affect the amount of production and business they conduct. Thus, in the conditions of having joined CPTPP and having competition in terms of organization and activity to attract members, the responsibilities of trade union staffs are to propagandize and mobilize workers to join trade union organizations and establish a grassroots trade union. Additionally, the trade union must send capable trade union staff to enterprises without trade union organization as the core representative of unions. They must mobilize labor users to set up a trade union organization at their enterprise given the sufficient conditions.

In the market economy, self-interest is the most important direct motivator to develop society. Before deciding to join any trade union organizations, workers often raise the questions “What is joining a trade union for? What is the benefit?” The staff of the trade union must answer these worker’s questions. Such questions should be answered not only in theory but also with action, the contents of the grassroots trade union operation, and the clear profit workers procure upon joining the trade union organization. Thus, a trade union must always renovate and improve their effectiveness for workers to see that the trade union will definitely support them when they encounter difficulty.

Trade unions must understand their members and organize activities for those members based on the specific conditions of each facility. Once the trade unions recognize this they can assign members according to their conditions and capacity. Trade union staff need to conduct periodical reviews of the strengths and weaknesses of their members. To encourage their good members’ activity, trade unions can propose rewards and rectify the faults of their members. Trade unions should encourage and attract workers to participate in trade union activities, make workers trust trade union activities, interests of trade unions, and the goal of joining the trade union organization. Thence, workers are petitioned to join and participate in activities held by trade unions voluntarily.



(1), (2) V.I.Lenin: Complete works, vol.42, Progress Publishing House, Moscow, 1979, p.253, 253.

(3), (4) Article 1 of Trade Union Law, Law No. 12/2012 / QH13. 

Assoc. Prof, Dr. Le Van Cuong

Institute of Party Building,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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