As ASEAN takes symbolic step toward unity, Vietnam officials want new labor barriers

By Thu Hang, Thanh Nien News

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A garment factory in Hanoi. Photo: Ngoc Thang A garment factory in Hanoi. Photo: Ngoc Thang


Now that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has officially been launched, with the goal of creating a common regional market where skilled workers can move freely, officials in Vietnam began to fear that many Vietnamese are not ready for the tough competition ahead. 
Speaking at a meeting in Hanoi on Wednesday, Le Quang Trung, deputy chief of employment department under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the government should issue new policies to protect local jobs.
Many Vietnamese workers will not be able to compete with foreign peers who have better skills, once the local job market is opened for all ASEAN citizens. 
Vietnam's existing laws require foreigners to have a university degree and be licensed to work here, but such requirements will not be enough, Trung said.
Even though the prospect of a common ASEAN market is not yet clear and the idea of economic unity among ten member states remains more or less an idea, officials like Trung believe the country should come prepared. 
Thai Phuc Thanh, deputy chief of the ministry's department of social insurance, suggested that the government should consider setting up barriers such as demanding foreign workers have Vietnamese language competency.
Deputy Minister Doan Mau Diep said the government can change policies on labor market so they can give Vietnamese laborers advantages, including a priority access to information about job vacancies.
Not a big concern
Many experts, however, allayed such concerns, saying that Vietnam's labor market will not be impacted much, at least in the near future, news website Saigon Times Online reported.
Nguyen Quang Viet, deputy chief of the ministry's institute for vocational training, was quoted as saying that AEC's mutual recognition agreement limits to only eight professions.
Workers in the professions, including accountants, architects, doctors and engineers, make up for only one percent of the Vietnamese workforce, so the AEC's impact on Vietnam will be limited, he said.
Moreover, even though ASEAN countries are now in theory a community, many barriers, from culture, language to religion, still exist and they will block the free flow of labor to some extent, Viet said.
Viet was also skeptical about the practicability of AEC's commitment for free labor movement considering that local regulations will still be recognized.
It is already difficult for organizations within a country to recognize another's training qualifications, let alone among countries, he said.
Ha Thi Minh Duc, deputy chief of the ministry's international cooperation department, said huge gaps among ASEAN countries' qualification frameworks will create many difficulties for the movement of skilled workers. 

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