Q: Labour rights are among the key issues in the final negotiating round of the CPTPP before its official singing. How and why is the issue of labour rights important?
A: In my opinion, the signing of the CPTPP, together with the EVFTA, will bring significant economic benefits to Vietnam, by increasing the price competitiveness of Vietnam’s export items in key markets, accelerating foreign direct investment (FDI) into Vietnam, promoting economic development, and creating millions of jobs, including those in SMEs. More importantly, the CPTPP will help to facilitate domestic reforms across all areas and help build the environment for a competitive economy, especially as the Vietnamese Government is actively pursuing the agenda on international economic integration.
The CPTTP and EVFTA are called new-generation FTAs, with a strong emphasis on labour rights, and the protection of environmental sustainability, in order to ensure that free trade contributes to sustainable development, whilst helping employees and businesses to equally enjoy the economic benefits.
Assume that country A - a more developed country – has trade relations with country B – a less developed one. That the wage level of workers in country A is higher than that of country B is quite understandable, because it reflects their productivity and development level. This is not unfair competition. However, if country B allows under-age labourers to participate in manufacturing export goods in unsecured working conditions at unacceptably low wages, while country A prohibits such labour conditions, this can be considered unfair competition, as it is contrary to the rules agreed globally. The world has reached consensus on the fundamental rights that all nations should respect, regardless of their level of economic development. This agreement is explicitly stated in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The labour-related chapters of the CPTPP and EVFTA aim to enforce these rights.
Q: What is the significance of the CPTPP chapter on labour for Vietnam?
A: The new-generation FTAs require all participating countries to adopt and maintain the rights set out in the 1998 ILO Declaration in their legislations, institutions, and practises. These rights are governed by ILO’s eight fundamental conventions, with the basis of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining (as stipulated in ILO Conventions No. 87 and 98); the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour (ILO Convention No. 29 and 105); the abolition of child labour (ILO Conventions No. 138 and 182); and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation (ILO Conventions No. 100 and 111).
All ILO member states, including Vietnam, must respect these rights. These are globally recognised rights in modern society. However, Vietnam has yet to ratify three basic conventions (Conventions No. 87, 98 and 105) related to the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labour.
The labour chapter of the CPTPP is based on the 1998 ILO Declaration. It provides a link between the implementation of the 1998 ILO Declaration and the commercial conditions within a certain time frame, including possible sanctions.
In addition to the significance of the trade aspect, I would like to emphasise that Vietnam should use this as an opportunity to modernise its labour legislation and labour relations system within the given time frame.
Q: In the ILO’s view, what progress has been made by Vietnam in its preparations for the implementation of the CPTPP’s labour chapter?
A: Vietnam has recognised this obligation and taken steps to meet the requirements of the CPTPP through the ongoing institutional and labour legislation reforms. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has reaffirmed the need for reforms at a meeting held on January 17 by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs to deploy its tasks for 2018.
In fact, Vietnam has made significant improvements in its labour law framework in the process of advancing towards a socialist-oriented market economy since the Doi Moi (Reform) period. In recent years, the coverage of legal protection has been extended to workers in the informal economic sector. At the same time, the adjustment of the minimum wage has become a tripartite process involving representatives of the Government, workers, and employers, through the National Wages Council.
Communicating the voice of workers through collective bargaining and social dialogue, trade unions and the labour relations system, will contribute to political and social stability, whilst promoting a common prosperity. That is the experience that other countries have shown in the market economy.
I believe that the revision of the Labour Code and the renovation of the labour relations system in line with the 1998 ILO Declaration and in the context of Vietnam will certainly work for this issue.
In addition, as I have mentioned, Vietnam needs to move forward in ratifying the three remaining fundamental conventions: Convention No. 87 on freedom of association, Convention No. 98 on the right to collective bargaining, and Convention No. 105 on the abolition of forced labour. Vietnam has already committed itself to implementing this through the sustainable development chapter of the EVFTA.
Q: What will the ILO do to help Vietnam achieve the aforementioned goal?
A: The ILO will step up its efforts to support Vietnam’s labour legislation and labour relations reforms, aiming to help Vietnam to fully fulfill the labour obligations of the CPTPP and EVFTA, and to build and complete the legal framework and the labour relations system, in service of the needs of workers, businesses and society, towards political stability and common prosperity. I believe that Vietnam will fulfill this mission for the future development of the country, which is built on a basis of productivity growth, innovation, equitable sharing of economic interests, recognition of the voices of both workers and employers, and socio-political stability.
* The CPTPP was signed by 11 countries on March 8, covering a large market of 500 million people, accounting for 13.5% of the global economy and 15% of its trade.