The battle at Samsung Thai Nguyen and Vietnamese workers' indiscipline

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Charred motorbikes belonging to security guards which were burnt by workers during a clash January 9 at the construction site of the Samsung Thai Nguyen factory. Photo by Nam Anh

An entrepreneur used to tell me that the secret of success of the Germans and Japanese is strict discipline.

The fact that thousands of construction workers at a Samsung factory site in Thai Nguyen Province were involved in a pitched battle with security guards and police January 9 has attracted wide attention.

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It occurred at around 7 a.m. at the Yen Binh Industrial Zone, where work on the South Korean electronics giant's US$3.2-billion hi-tech complex, reportedly its largest mobile phone factory in the world, has been going on since March 2013.

The workers attacked the guards with rocks and sticks, burning down three containers which were used as guardrooms, and 22 motorbikes belonging to the guards.

When hundreds of officers arrived to quell the violence, some of the workers threw rocks at them. The disturbance was finally broken up at around 11 a.m.

Eleven guards and two officers were hospitalized, several of them with serious injuries.

Witnesses said that the problem began when a construction worker was stopped by guards from taking food into the site. They threw down the food and stomped on it and threatened to beat him up, prompting other workers to jump into the fray.

But the Thai Nguyen People's Committee reported to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung that some workers showed up late for work and insisted on entering the site, but the guards stopped them in accordance with regulations, sparking off the fight.

Relevant authorities will find out who was at fault.

What I want to talk about is the unwillingness to follow discipline by workers and, generally, by Vietnamese: Many often violate discipline, especially at work.

It is common for office workers to go for work 5-10 minutes late and to not focus on work.

Factory workers commit all kinds of violations like not wearing the name tag, helmet, or safety strap, smoking at banned places, and so on.

Needless to say, everyone knows that failure to follow the rules could have serious consequences.

Indiscipline is rampant among Vietnamese workers at foreign companies. People ask why foreign bosses are so violent and physically abuse workers. They are insulted and abused for seemingly minor reasons, like being late for a few minutes, parking motorbikes at wrong places, going too often to the toilet, littering, snacking while at work, etc.

Tough enforcement of workplace regulations is common at South Korea and Taiwanese companies, and they also use violence on workers back home.

In Vietnam, people are often outraged when some factory worker is abused by security guards or managers and blow up the issue, especially after the recent popularity of social media.

I think we are often upset by such news and label such behavior abusive and violent because we consider the worker the underdog.

If we really respect ourselves by strictly following workplace discipline, there will be no regretful events like at Samsung Thai Nguyen and many other places.

Discipline is a set of regulations for a group in which every member has to strictly follow to ensure effective operation. It is a simple form of law. Only one who conforms to discipline will obey the laws.

Discipline is a combination of awareness and willingness. Humans, who consider themselves the highest form of animal, believe they are the only creature to understand awareness and willingness. Thus, violating discipline is tantamount to degrading ourselves.

Business owners demand discipline to ensure the rights of both the company and workers. Discipline ensures work safety and productivity. It is a fundamental requirement for workers to follow discipline. But it is sad that not many Vietnamese workers think so.

We cannot take pride that we have an abundant and inexpensive workforce since there is no reason to be proud of an undisciplined workforce.

We are going backward in a race with neighboring countries and are paying for what we call inexpensive. Because it is not only us who know the saying "˜you get what you pay for.'

By Pham Quy* 

* The writer is a blogger and handicraftsman who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.

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