"Listen to the workers'

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Disgruntled Vietnamese employees can only be ignored at industries' peril


Factory workers change shifts at the Thang Long Industrial Park outside of Hanoi. Experts say that a significant increase in minimum wages currently among the lowest in the region is crucial to help Vietnamese workers struggling with the country's accelerating inflation.

Vietnamese workers, especially in industrial and export processing zones, are an unhappy lot.

Repeated minimum wage increases have failed to help them make ends meet, officials and experts say, adding that a failure to address their legitimate concerns could see a spate of wildcat strikes in the near future.

Worsening the situation is the belligerent response by several factory owners who have resorted to violence as a dissuading tactic.

Experts say that a significant increase in minimum wages currently among the lowest in the region is needed to help workers struggling with high inflation, which accelerated in June to 20.82 percent, the fastest since 2008.

Wildcat strikes by city workers have become "serious" and relevant agencies should not consider it a normal issue, Le Thanh Hai, chief of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Unit, said at a conference on Tuesday (July 12).

He asked government agencies and companies to provide greater support to workers with increased salaries and allowances as well as better working conditions.

Last week, the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs said the government is considering a basic salary increase in October instead of next January as planned due to rising inflation.

According to the ministry's proposal, the minimum monthly wage will increase from between VND830,000 (US$40) and VND1.55 million to between VND1.4 million and VND1.9 million.  In Vietnam, minimum monthly wages vary between different regions. The government has increased the minimum wage four times since 2008, when the basic monthly salary ranged between VND450,000 and VND620,000 a month.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor has proposed a higher increase to between VND1.6 million and VND2.2 million.

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There have been around 440 wildcat strikes across the country in the first six months this year, three times as many as in the same period last year, increasing tensions in the workplace.

On Sunday, 21-year-old Son Thanh, a worker at the Sun Lap Shing Plastic Company in HCMC, was allegedly beaten up when he was gathering with other workers in front of the company to demand for a VND300,000 (US$14.6) increase in their monthly salary.

Thanh said five men on three motorbikes beat him up and said they were doing so because he was leading the wildcat strike.

Company director Lam Tuan Dung said his firm had not hired the men to beat up the worker, but offered no alternative explanations.

Police in Binh Tan District's An Lac Ward, where the alleged assault took place, are investigating the case.

In another case, Hanoi police on June 28 announced that they would file murder charges against a company guard who drove a truck into a crowd of workers engaged in a wildcat strike, killing one of them.

The case happened on June 23 when more than 300 workers, most of them female, had gathered at the front gate of the Giai Duc Special Materials Company, making it impossible for two 1.5-ton trucks to enter the company's premises.

Le Tuan Minh, chief guard of the company, reportedly got into one of the trucks and drove at high speed to the gate, injuring 26-year-old Nguyen Thi Lieu, who died while being taken to the hospital.

Six other workers were severely injured, including a woman who was seven months pregnant. Another woman, five months pregnant, suffered slight injuries.

Facing worsening labor disputes, experts say an increase in minimum wage is crucial to help mitigate the affects of rising inflation.

At a meeting held by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs on July 8 to discuss the issue, several businesses objected to the proposal, citing financial difficulties.

However, experts said that Vietnam's minimum wage was the lowest in the region and no business can blame high wages for its financial difficulties.

"There is no real evidence that the increase will affect investment," said Ho Xuan Lam, the head of the labor management division at the HCMC Export Processing and Industrial Zone Authority.

Lam said no foreign investor will avoid Vietnam based on its salary levels. What's more, low salaries could lead to labor disputes, he said.

"Increase the basic salary and see if they move or not. I don't think they can move anywhere else."

The latest increase planned in minimum wages might not prevent labor disputes, Lam said.

"Prior to the previous increase, we had warned that the raise was too low and labor disputes would surely ensue," Lam said. "Listen to the workers or we will face escalating labor disputes."

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