Vietnam lawmakers criticize proposed rise in laborers' overtime

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Vietnam lawmakers on Tuesday opposed draft adjustments to the current labor law, saying that an increase in regulated overtime is not what laborers want.

The proposal being discussed at the National Assembly aims to increase the maximum annual overtime from 200 hours to 360 hours.

Cu Thi Hau, a lawmaker from the northern province of Hung Yen, said laborers work overtime not because they want to, but because their salaries are too low. Most of workers have to rent houses, motorbikes and have no conditions to attend recreational activities, so they volunteer to work overtime, she said.

"It is our mistake to set the minimum salary too low," so wages per product calculated by employers based on it are low as well, said Hau, who is also former chairwoman of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor. "As a result, laborers work very hard, but their salaries end up being just a bit higher than the minimum salary."

Many lawmakers agreed with Hau, and urged the government to increase the basic salary, which is now VND830,000 (US$40) per month.

The government should regulate when and how the basic salary needs to be adjusted in accordance with the consumer price index, said Tran Ngoc Vinh from the northern city of Hai Phong.

Dang Ngoc Tung, another lawmaker and also the chairman of Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, said, "Every laborer wants to spend time taking care of [his] family; no one wants to work overtime."

He said the drafted adjustments seem to protect employers more than laborers.

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"With increasing working shifts and hours, why don't employers recruit more laborers?" he asked.

Tran Ngoc Hai, a legislature member from the northern city of Hai Phong, raised concerns over labor safety when laborers work too much overtime.

Labor accidents have been increasing in recent years, partly because many laborers are fatigued by working excessive overtime, according to Hai.

On the other hand, Nguyen Trung Thu, a lawmaker from the southern province of Long An, and his counterpart from the northern province of Thai Binh, Nguyen Thuy Hoan, agreed with the overtime proposal.

Hoan said workers demand to work overtime, because their salaries are too low to cover all necessary expenses. She cited a survey that showed some companies already let their workers work between 300 to 700 hour of overtime per year.

Thu, meanwhile, said increasing overtime will help to improve Vietnam's edge in the world and among regional labor markets. Compared to other regional countries, the allowable maximum overtime for Vietnamese workers is still low, he added.

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