Friday, January 13, 2017

Monday of Many Meaningful Meetings

January 9, 2017

To start the day, we had a group meeting with Professor Fincher to discuss the history of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), the sole trade union in Viet Nam. We learned about the structure of the union, how it is funded and what it does for workers. Many characteristics of the VGCL are different from unions in the US. While the union in Viet Nam does try to raise the minimum wage of workers and carry out administrative processes, some of its funds go towards funding factory trips and giving money to its workers for weddings, or a death in the family. Additionally, union leaders can also be human resource managers. 

Following the morning discussion with Professor Fincher, we were joined by Ms. La, one of the Labor Relations professors at TDTU. Ms. La gave us a further understanding of the VGCL and enlightened us as to the three functions of the VGCL. The first function is to represent and protect the worker. She stressed that this is the main and most important function of the union. The union, under this idea, manages social dialogue (a tool to hear the worker’s voice in workplace issues), negotiates and judges the quality of collective bargaining agreements, and holds the employer accountable to all the provisions of the law. The second function of the union is to work with management to promote the efficiency of the enterprise. This differs from the American idea of the union’s function in which a union works primarily for the worker. The third and last function of the union is to mobilize and educate the worker.

With Ms. La (center)
After our meeting with Ms. La, we had the privilege to meet with the International Labor Organization (ILO) Country Director of Viet Nam, Mr. Chang Hee Lee. During this meeting, we each had the chance to ask Mr. Lee a couple questions. Among the many topics we discussed was the ILO’s Better Work program. Better Work is a monitoring, evaluation, and consultation program meant to raise labor standards in factories. Mr. Lee explained that once the factories under the scope of Better Work Viet Nam comply with the standards, the factories around them will begin to comply and this will slowly create a network of factories that will eventually extend to all the factories across Viet Nam. Mr. Lee ended the meeting by explaining the ILO’s unique position in that it is an outside organization that is trusted by the Vietnamese government and can suggest policy changes. Mr. Lee was very candid when answering our questions which made this meeting the highlight of the day.

With Mr. Cheng Hee Lee (center)
After eating lunch at the canteen, we came back to the office to meet with J.R. Larsen, an economic officer at the U.S. Consulate in Viet Nam and Ms. Giang from USAID. Unfortunately, Mr. Larsen had to leave early, but Ms. Giang stayed and gave us perspective into the Governance for Inclusive Growth (GIG) program. GIG is a USAID funded program aimed to improve public administration and the Vietnamese regulatory environment. Ms. Giang works with national and local government officials on matters related to social dialogue and strikes. As a side note, we learned that additional USAID staff recently joined to build capacity in anticipation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, with the new administration’s opposition to the deal, many practitioners in Viet Nam are looking for new ways to guide reform. In addition to this, Ms. Giang had visited a handful of factories and interviewed many workers. She provided us with insight into navigating a factory visit.

With Ms. Giang (center)
After a jam-packed day of guest lectures, Hunter and I decided to decompress by exploring the campus. After wondering the sports complex, some students invited us to play badminton. We had a fantastic time even though our opponents were definitely easy on us.

The day was capped off by having dinner at the VivoCity mall in Phu My Hung. Phu My Hung is an area with a large expatriate population. Exploring this part of the city was a great way to finish off such a busy day! - Samir

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