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2013 Constitution - Constitutionalizing social security
8/8/2014 21:26' Send Print
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The fundamental connotation of social security

From the August 1945 Revolution to 1986, our Party and State oriented, developed, promulgated and implemented many social policies suitable to war conditions and socio-economic conditions in each period. Especially from the 6th Party Congress in December 1986 to the 10th Party Congress in April 2006, major social policies were basically revised, supplemented, raised to higher level, upgraded and renovated. By the 11th Party Congress, those major policies were succinctly “designed” but rather complete in terms of social security. The basic connotation of social security was defined by the Party Congress as “Concentrate on effectively implementing policies on labor, employment and income… Pay attention to labor protection; improve working conditions; limit labor accidents… Continue to revise and complete systems of social, health, and unemployment insurance, and diversified and flexible provision of support and social relief which are capable of protecting and assisting all members of society, particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable groups to overcome difficulties or risks in their life. Increase the percentage of insurance subscribers among laborers. Accelerate socialization of social insurance services, change forms of social support and relief to community-based social assistance. Ensure social assistance eligible people have stable life, better integration into community, and more opportunities to access economic resources and essential public services… Focus on effectively implementing hunger eradication and poverty reduction programs in remote and especially difficult regions… Mobilize all social resources, together with the State, to provide better care for material and spiritual life of people and families who have rendered meritorious service to the country. Resolutely solve any remaining cases relating to policies towards people who have rendered meritorious service to the country, especially those who conducted clandestine activities, joined the armed forces and young volunteers during revolutionary periods and resistance wars. Create conditions, encourage people and families who have rendered meritorious service to the country to actively participate in economic development to improve material and spiritual life with living standards higher than the average living standards of people in the same location.” (2) Given fundamental policies as mentioned above, it is possible to note three big and important issues.

First, the standpoint on social security consists of 5 contents: 1. Citizens’ guaranteed right to social security which is suitable to the country’s socio-economic conditions in each period; 2. Toward the objective of social security provision to all people; 3. Due attention paid to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups; 4. Broad socialization and attraction of resources for social security; and 5. Social security should conform to international norms and practices.

Second, 5 principles of social security which manifest the above-mentioned standpoint: 1. Citizens have rights and responsibilities to participate in social security system; 2. Redistribute and share incomes among population groups; between the State, businesses, family households and individuals; 3. Ensure equity and sustainability, link responsibilities to interests, between contribution and enjoyment of members who join social security schemes; 4. Enhance responsibilities of individuals, businesses, community and the State in ensuring social security; 5. In certain periods of time, concentrate on supporting poor households, vulnerable groups, ensure subsistence living standard to citizens at risks or whose incomes are reduced or lost.

Third, policies structure (which can also be called “pillars” of social security policies), includes 4 groups: 1. Policies which support laborers to join the labor market, offices and organizations for employment, and increasing incomes to actively prevent risks; 2. Policies on social, health and unemployment insurance to reduce risks caused by changes in live and labor and health problems; 3. Policies on people who have rendered meritorious service (war martyrs, closest relatives of war martyrs, war invalids, sick soldiers, Vietnamese heroic mothers, revolutionaries, resistant war activists who were arrested and imprisoned by the enemy, among others); 4. Policies on social support, hunger eradication, poverty reduction, and increased access to fundamental social services to assist citizens in overcoming risks, reducing inequality and achieving social equity.

Constitutionalized connotation of social security

The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (the 2013 Constitution for short) constitutionalizes the above-mentioned contents in a comprehensive, succinct, and scientific manner in several chapters and articles, but mostly in Chapter II: Human rights, Fundamental rights and Obligations of citizens (Articles 34, 35, 37, and 38) and Chapter III: Economy, Social Affairs, Culture, Education, Science, Technology and Environment (Article 57, 58 and 59).

In Chapter II, the 2013 Constitution stipulates an overall and clear declaration to all citizens of Viet Nam: Citizens are guaranteed the right to social security (Article 34). Followed is a stipulation on a vital problem for maintaining social and individual life, that is labor-employment. Article 35 makes it clear: “1. Citizens have the right to work and to choose their occupations, employment and workplaces. 2. Employees are guaranteed equal and safe working conditions; and have the right to wages and rest periods. 3. Discriminatory treatment, forced labor or the employment of people below the minimum working age is prohibited.”

To realize the Party’s viewpoints on socialization to create jobs and guarantee equality for all sides in labor relations, Article 57 (Chapter III) puts forth two concise items: 1. The State shall encourage and create the conditions for organizations and individuals to create jobs. 2. The State shall protect the rights and legitimate interests of employees and employers and create the conditions for the establishment of progressive, harmonious and stable employment relations.

It is possible to say, equality in legitimate interests and establishment of progressive, harmonious and stable labor relations (in businesses) are both topical and urgent and long-term strategic issues in production management, business and labor management to effectively limit unusual labor changes, maintain relative stability of the labor force for effective production and business development.

Specialized targets in society (children, youth and the elderly) are grouped in an joint article. This demonstrates rights and legitimate interests of these groups as well as our society’s superiority (both care for, protect and encourage and promote potentiality of the target groups). Article 37 elaborates: “Children shall be protected, cared for and educated by the State, family and society; children may participate in child-related issues. Harassing, persecuting, maltreating, abandoning or abusing children, exploiting child labor or other acts that violate children's rights are prohibited. 2. Young people shall be provided by the State, family and society with the conditions for learning, working, entertaining themselves, and developing their physiques and minds, and be educated in morality, national traditions and civic consciousness; and shall take the lead in the cause of creative labor and national defense. 3. The elderly shall be respected and cared for by the State, family and society to promote their role in the cause of national construction and defense.”

Another common issue which everybody needs and should enjoy equality, that is health. It does not only implies the state of having no illness or injuries but also a comprehensively physically, spiritually and socially comfortable state. These are stipulated in Article 38: “1. Everyone has the right to health protection and care, and to equality in the use of medical services, and has the obligation to comply with regulations on the prevention of disease and medical examination or treatment. 2. Acts threatening the life or health of other persons and the community are prohibited.”

In Chapter III (on social affairs), policies for people in general and for specialized target groups in particular are stipulated relatively clearly which can serve as a basis for revision, supplement or development of new concrete and corresponding laws later on. On the health of people in general and people in specialized regions, areas and target groups in particular, Article 58 stipulates: “1. The State and society shall make investments to further the protection of and care for the people's health, implement the universal health insurance, and adopt policies to prioritize health care for ethnic minority people and people living in mountainous areas, on islands, and in areas that have extremely difficult socio-economic conditions. 2. The State, society and family are responsible for protecting and caring for the health of mothers and children, and for family planning.”

Our country underwent almost one hundred years of colonial and imperialist domination and confronted wars of aggression for territorial and national sovereignty defense, hence a high number of people who rendered meritorious service to the country. After the wars, though their life has been improved, a large number of them are in difficult situation. Article 59 stipulates policies for these people as follow: “1. The State and society shall honor, commend, reward, and implement preferential treatment policies to people who have rendered meritorious service to the country. 2. The State shall create equal opportunities for citizens to enjoy social welfare, develop the social security system, and adopt policies to support elderly people, people with disabilities, poor people, and other disadvantaged people. 3. The State shall adopt housing development policies and create the conditions for everyone to have his or her own home.”

The strong points of constitutionalization methodology of social security in the 2013 Constitution can be said in short phrases as having high level of generalization and being complete; updated with new issues which are not only tactical but also strategic; and highlighting pillar policies of social security and implementation methods.

Constitutionalization of social security in the 2013 Constitution

The Party and State pointed to dialectic relations between production development and social security guarantee. The larger the scale and the higher effectiveness of production, the better the material conditions for realizing the system of social security and vice versa. The State plays a great role in management, execution and association of these two systems in an integrated entity. In our country since the beginning of the renovation process, the Party and State affirmed: “The objectives of social policies conform to those of economic development which aim to bring into play the strength of people factor and for the people. Harmoniously combine economic development with cultural and social development, economic growth with social progress; and material and spiritual life of the people. Consider economic development the basis and precondition for social policy implementation and good social policy implementation the driving force for economic development.” (3) Those viewpoints and lines were constitutionalized in the 1992 Constitution and proved to be totally correct in practice.

Over the past quarter of a century of renovation, the Party and State reviewed and finalized them into clear and transparent theoretical points which were agreed by the people to include in the 2013 Constitution and manifested in human rights, fundamental rights and obligations of citizens and other social policies.

If the 1992 Constitution only stipulated major policies for certain target groups as the State had not yet sufficient economic resources to “care for” all members in society, the 2013 Constitution shoulders that “mission”, meaning the economic scale and efficiency are sufficient to allow constitutionalization of social security into a system which is able to cover all people strata in society (Articles 34 and 59). This is a superiority of the socialist-oriented market economy.

The social security system is constitutionalized as a multi-layer network to guarantee that no member of society is not covered by the security net. The social security system’s functions are to prevent, reduce and overcome risks. To effectively fulfill these functions, the 2013 Constitution divides the “social security net” into 4 layers.

- The first layer includes the group of policies which creates maximal conditions for citizens - who have full or partial labor force - to participate in the labor market or work in offices, organizations and businesses to have employment, income and guarantee their and their families’ life. This is the most fundamental and largest group of policies in the social security system which manifests the State’s encouragement and citizens’ proactive participation (the majority of working age citizens except working age students who are still studying are regulated by this group of policies). These policies fully guarantee citizens’ rights to freedom and democracy in labor activities appropriate to each people’s capacity, level, taste, circumstance and conditions as stipulated by the constitution. “Citizens have the right to work and to choose their occupations, employment and workplaces. Employees are guaranteed equal and safe working conditions; and have the right to wages and rest periods…” (Article 35). To effective implement this group of policies is to exercise the function of proactive risk prevention.

- The second layer includes policies towards people and families who have rendered meritorious service to the country. This group of policies is to “express gratitude” to people and families who have made great contribution to the country to make it sustainable and glorious as today by offering important offset for their sweat, blood and energy (past labor). They are revolutionaries who were engaged in revolutionary activities before the 1945 August Revolution; martyrs and closest relatives of the martyrs, people’s armed force heroes and heroines, Vietnamese heroic mothers, labor heroes and heroines in war time; war invalids and sick soldiers, people who were directly engaged in fightings or served fightings and were contaminated by toxic chemicals; people who were revolutionaries or took part in resistant activities and arrested and imprisoned by the enemy; people who took part in resistance wars for national liberation and defense of the Fatherland, people who carried out international duties and people who have rendered meritorious service to support the revolution. This is a special group of policies (most of other countries do not have this group of policies) of Viet Nam’s social security. The 2013 Constitution affirms: “The State and society shall honor, commend, reward, and implement preferential treatment policies to people who have rendered meritorious service to the country.” (item 1, Article 59).

- The third layer includes the group of policies on social, health, unemployment insurance to offset for reduced or interrupted income; overcome the state of poor health due to illness, diseases, labor accidents and occupational diseases. Target groups of these policies are several consisting of people who are no longer in the working age group (retired people, elderly people, people who temporarily lose jobs or during their job transition period); all citizens from newborns to the oldest people who have the needs for medical examination, cure and treatment. The Constitution affirms: “Everyone has the right to health protection and care, and to equality in the use of medical services.” (item 1, Article 38); “ The State and society shall make investments to further the protection of and care for the people's health, implement the universal health insurance.” (item 1, Article 58). Effective implementation of the policies is the proactive implementation of the function of risk reduction of social security.

- The fourth layer is the group of policies on social assistance, hunger eradication, poverty reduction, and opportunities for increased access to social services, mutual assistance to overcome unanticipated and out of control risks (due to harsh natural conditions, drought, frequent storm and flood and sudden accidents). The target members of this policy group are diverse, most of them are disadvantaged people (poor people due to difficult production conditions, people in storm and flood-prone areas, people with disabilities, people who suffer from prolonged illnesses or dangerous diseases, people who get sudden accidents, and supportless elderly people). The Constitution also pay special attention to these people and stipulates that “The State … shall adopt policies to prioritize health care for ethnic minority people and people living in mountainous areas, on islands, and in areas that have extremely difficult socio-economic conditions.” (item 1, Article 58) and “The State shall…. develop the social security system, and adopt policies to support elderly people, people with disabilities, poor people, and other disadvantaged people.” (item 2, Article 59). The volume of work of this group of policies is large and constant. However, it is essential to implement the important function of social security - the function of overcoming all types of risks of which social assistance is the final policy.

Broad and in-depth international integration of social security stipulation in the 2013 Constitution

First, Viet Nam is one of the 189 countries who commit to implement 8 objectives by 2015 in the Millennium Declaration of the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000 in New York (1. Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty ; 2. Achieve universal primary education ; 3. Promote gender equality and empower women; 4. Reduce child mortality; 5. Improve maternal health; 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; 7. Ensure environmental sustainability; 8. Develop a global partnership for development). The 2013 Constitution demonstrates fully these contents.

In an interview given to VTV online on 25 September 2013, Ms. Pratibha Mehtar, UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam said: “Viet Nam is one of the forerunner in implementing the Millennium Development Goals and is one of the 6 countries which record considerable achievements in hunger eradication and poverty reduction… Viet Nam has made successes in basic education, health indicators and reduction of maternal and newborn mortality rate. I think in general, these achievements are commendable and recognizable in the United Nations and the world.”

Second, the social security connotation of each country can vary with different points and details. However they share the most common point that is that system is multi-layers to protect and assist different targets. Our country’s social security system stipulated in the 2013 Constitution also has several layers as presented. The only difference is we guarantee social security for all citizens in society instead of guaranteeing certain target groups like in some other countries.

Third, for a majority of developed countries, the social security system can be shared among stakeholders: state, labor users, laborers and others (social funds). In our country, this content is similar but is generalized by the term socialization of resources to ensure social security is effectively implemented.

Fourth, while studying and learning experiences from other countries, we recognized limitations in their social security systems. Some countries which follow the free market economy model made one-way emphasis, believing that the market would regulate all including social equity, thus they have suffered heavy consequences even social disorder. Some countries follow the social market economic model with the welfare state having generous social security system hence their citizens’ reliance, passiveness and inertia and gradual elimination of their activity and proactivity. Those countries are revising their social security systems, striving to create and stimulate their citizens’ dynamism and sense of responsibility, among other endeavours.

In our country, the motto “giving the fishing rods is better than giving the fish” has helped overcome shortcomings of the social security system as our economy is the socialist-oriented market economy. The 2013 Constitution highly values citizens’ right to social security and responsibility towards the social security system which serves them. The Constitution also affirms the role of the State, the responsibility of society, and duties of families and individuals in each policy of this system./.

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(1) Documents of the 11th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House - Truth, Ha Noi, 2011, p.227

(2) Op.cit., pp. 227-230

(3) Documents of the 7th National Party Congress, the Truth Publishing House, Ha Noi, 1991, p.73

This article was published on Communist Review No 859 (May 2014)

Bui Ngoc ThanhPhD, Former Chairman of the National Assembly Office