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Fulfilling commitments on labour-union when CPTPP comes into force: Challenges and measures
14/1/2020 13:37' Send Print
Representatives of 11 member countries (Japan, Canada, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Australia) partaking in the signing ceremony of the CPTPP in Santiago, Chile on 8 March, 2017. Photo: Reuters

1. In nature, freedom of association is deemed to be the achievement of human civilization. That workers associate together to create collective strength with a view to rebalancing the asymmetric relationship between employers and employees is a natural law in the market economy. Therefore, freedom of association has always been mentioned as the top priority in new-generation free trade agreements (FTA). Indeed, freedom of association is an irreversible trend of globalization and international integration.

Like other new-generation FTAs, the CPTPP does not set unique labour standards, but just reaffirms those proposed in the International Labour Organisation’s 1998 Declaration on “Fundamental Principles and Rights at work” that the signatories are bound to respect, promote, and exercise, as the ILO members.

These categories are: 1- Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; 2- The elimination of forced or compulsory labour; 3- The abolition of child labour; 4- The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Among the 11 CPTPP member countries, there has been a lack of consensus on the ratification of ILO fundamental conventions, in which ILO convention 87 regarding freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, is ratified by only 6 out of the 11 concerned parties. This demonstrates that quite a few nations show their concern for freedom of association in industrial relations.

ILO Convention No.87 establishes the principles of reciprocal relation: on the one hand, employees, employers and their organizations are supposed to respect the host nation’s laws; these local laws, on the other hand, must not prevent the exercise of rights issued in the convention. Affiliated bodies are founded, with a single purpose, to represent workers in industrial relations, and not entitled to engaging in political activities, and others.

The Labour Chapter requires member countries to commit themselves to dual missions: the recognition and maintenance of labor laws, and the enforcement of regulations related to basic labor rights. Article No.19.5 in the chapter on labor requests the CPTPP contracting countries not to deny the effective implementation of labor law, affecting trade and investment among the parties when the CPTPP takes effect (30.12.2018). This may put relatively enormous pressure on developing nations including Vietnam.

2- In Vietnam, freedom of association is a basic human right stipulated in Article 25 of the 2013 Constitution. Currently, the Vietnamese working class have not been at their disposal to choose a body on behalf of themselves which is independent from the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor and Vietnam Trade Union (Vietnamese blue-collar workers’ obvious representatives), regardless of whether they are union members, which is incongruous with the general spirit embedded in the 1998 ILO Declaration.

Meanwhile, the development of industrial relations has become more and more complicated; however, the role of Trade Unions in handling these relations has remained rather limited. As documented by the Institute for Workers and Trade Union via survey research, 6.700 strikes and go-slows took place nationwide; not initiated by trade unions from 1994 to October 2018.

Furthermore, the operation of the Trade Union, in fact, has unveiled numerous loopholes; over 85% of the private businesses, and 65% of the FDI enterprises have not had grassroots unions in spite of sufficient required conditions for their inception. Some unions are even at risk of being transformed into organizations that protect the rights of employers, rather than employees’.

So, what will happen when the CPTPP comes into force, which stipulates workers’ freedom of association and the principles of fair competition in union activities be recognized and enforced in reality?

3- Gravitating towards globalization and fulfilling their obligations when signing new-generation FTAs, our Party and State have always been making efforts to both observe international labour standards and ensure socio-political stability. The Resolution of the fourth plenary session of the 12th Central Party Committee, on “implementing international economic integration effectively, sustaining socio-political stability in the context of our country engaging in new-generation free trade agreements” on 5.11.2016, stated that “if not precautiously examined and prepared with a well-sequenced plan and appropriate steps, meeting the deeply comprehensive and higher-level commitments and adapting these to the specific context of Vietnam are likely to have adverse repercussion on the process of reform, the perfection of institution, and the resolution of complicated, sensitive issues. Following the ILO standards may not only present new challenges to the State management but also affect socio-political stability and the role as well as the operation of Vietnam General Confederation of Labor”.

Researches indicate that the exercise of freedom of association in industrial relations will probably result in several following impacts on security situation: 1- Hostile and reactionary forces will make optimum use of the right to establish, transform the new worker representative organizations aiming to sabotage the innovation process of our Party, State, and people, and simultaneously publicize political opposition organizations. 2- The leading role of the Party to the working class will possibly face new challenges. The bodies representing workers in general and the working class in particular may run the risk of moving away from the Party leadership. Therefore, varied resources should be gathered to foster fair competition among trade unions, appeal to union members, and laborers should be viewed as the nucleus to serve, represent, and protect. 3- It is highly possible that many strikes and go-slows would occur, leading to demonstrations and riots. If not strictly-regulated and well-managed in reality, freedom of association will possibly cause the increasing number of strikes and go-slows, which can have negative influence on industrial relations, the production efficiency of businesses, by extension, the economy as a whole. Moreover, strikes featuring large-scale association, if not tightly controlled, would cause demonstrations and riots whose aftermath is unpredictable. 4- With a view to formulating proper policies, complying with basic obligations on ILO’s international labor standards and ensuring socio-political stability when the CPTPP comes into effect, the following solutions should be taken into consideration:

First, the institutionalization of policies should be carefully guided and materialized into practical actions for the entire political system and concerned agencies to build institutions for the exercise of freedom of association. Raise legal awareness and capacity, especially on international labor laws, for key officials at all levels, enterprises, prosecutors, lawyers and international economic integration staff.

Second, build and develop proactive security and tectonic security mindset for the socio-economic growth of the country. In the past, Vietnam’s security and order were proactively protected for its socio-economic development because we fully realized that the socio-economy would only thrive in a country with a stable socio-political environment. Today, the goal of rapid and sustainable socio-economic development should be served as the foundation for maintaining political stability and social order. Enforcing international labor standards in general and exercising freedom of association in particular should be seen as upholding basic human rights, among which are liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This should also be considered as an impetus for economic and socio-cultural growth of the country in the era of extensive economic integration in all areas.

Third, the law on Labor and Trade Union should be perfected. Currently, this law does not specify the regulations on employees’ organizations. Specifically, there are no regulations on these matters:

1- Establishment and participation in laborers’ organizations at enterprise level, namely regulations on registering with state agencies or electing the executive committee; and at non-enterprise level alike; 2- Managing the operation of employees’ organizations; 3- The engagement of laborers’ organizations in dialogue, negotiation and strike mechanisms at an enterprise, especially at enterprises with more than one trade union for employees. All aforementioned matters should be researched and incorporated into the law.

Fourth, map out strategies, programs, projects and plans on ensuring security and order when exercising freedom of association so as to mobilize powers of the whole political system and population, as well as Vietnamese nationals, preventing hostile forces from taking advantage of the implementation of international labor standards to destabilize the socio-political security. The People’s Public Security of Vietnam is the core force responsible for investigating, preventing the conspiracy of enemies who make use of the right to establishing laborers’ organizations in Vietnam to induce political opponents to stage “Color Revolutions” and “Street Revolutions”. Promote dissemination to raise employees’ awareness on the conspiracies of hostile forces who have enticed employees to disturb security and public order. A close coordination between the central government, minitries and branches is needed to prevent negative effects of implementing international technology and law assistance projects under the commitments on labor and trade union specified by the CPTPP. Violations in operations of employee’s organizations should be timely detected and strictly handled to fight against all plots of taking advantage of labor and trade union issues to undermine socio-political stability.

Fifth, proactively handle strikes and go-slows which tend to evolve into protests and political riots. The exercise of freedom of association may result in opposing viewpoints of different representative organizations on a political, economic or social issue. The State management, therefore, should be necessarily taken into account. Otherwise, social conflicts would arise, which might lead to other serious consequences such as widespread strikes and protests. If strikes and go-slows tend to go out of control, the police and security forces should urgently investigate the situation and consult with local party committees and authorities in the localities and their vicinity where strikes or go-slows occur. Afterwards, plans with alternative solutions will be legally taken to maintain security and order under any circumstances, preventing the spread of the incident to other areas. Proactivity, flexibility, creativity and responsibility should be promoted. Province and district police should be reinforced to strengthen their monitoring and surveillance in local areas, especially ones with industrial parks and processing zones.


(1) Document of 4th Plenary Session of the 12th Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Party Central Committee’s Office, Hanoi, 2016, p.83

Source: Communist Review (No 924, August 2019)

Đoàn Việt CườngMinistry of Public Security