Vietnam grants labor rights to home helpers

By An Duong, Thanh Nien News

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A home helper cleans a high window at a house in Hanoi. PHOTO BY NGOC THANG

A government resolution will take effect this May recognizing home help as a career with special protections.
Tong Thi Minh, head of the Labor and Wages Department at the labor ministry, said his office is drafting instructions for the resolution which takes effect on May 25.
The instructions will not provide a precise contract format but will compel home helper employers to provide new hires with a list of tasks their job requires. This list will effectively prohibit the employer from forcing an employee to do other tasks.
The law also bans employers from all kinds of abuse and sexual harassment and requires them to include meals, lodging and travel support in the contract, as well as the helpers’ wages, Minh said.
She said the resolution does not require employers to pay social insurance for helpers as the payment is only obligatory for employers with at least ten employees.
Ngo Thi Ngoc Anh, director of the Hanoi-based Research Center for Gender, Family and Environment in Development, said the resolution should specify the responsibility and power of local government on the matter.
Her center has been running a home helper protection project for two years in Hanoi, nearby Nam Dinh, Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta’s Vinh Long Province and Khanh Hoa Province on the central coast.
Anh said officials in areas she encountered had no understanding of how to resolve a breach of contract dispute.
Questioned about Anh’s concerns, Minh said the contract can be filed with labor officials at the ward or commune level. Disputes will be dealt with by district government officials, and can be brought to court in the event that local officials fail to offer satisfying solutions.
She said leaflets and training courses will be provided at several localities to help officials know what they need to do.
Unhappy employers
Tin Tuc, a website of the Vietnam News Agency, cited Nelien Haspels, an expert on gender issues at the International Labor Organization Asia-Pacific as saying that ILO considers the resolution an important step toward protecting home helpers and recognizing their contributions to socio-economic values.
An ILO survey noted that the number of home helpers in Vietnam has risen with the expansion of the middle-class: from 157,000 in 2008 to 246,000 in 2015, according to Tin Tuc.
The survey also said most helpers are required to work too many hours and are vulnerable to sexual harassment and different kinds of abuse.
Home helpers have expressed excitement over the new regulations which give them better control over their jobs, according to Tin Tuc, which noted that their employers are unhappy for the same reason.
Nguyen Thi Luyen from Nam Dinh Province, who works at a luxury apartment building in Hanoi, said: “The thing that makes me happiest is that home help has been recognized as a career under the law and we can no longer be belittled as servants.”
Her colleague Diep said they have been working under verbal contracts or negotiations settled between brokerage companies and the families.
“Families try all everything to cut into our wages,” Diep said.
But Bich Hoa, an employer from Hanoi, said in the website reported that the helpers need to have training certificates to deserve the recognition.
Hoa said most helpers follow habit or their employers’ instructions and few are professionally trained.
The ILO survey also said most of the helpers are poor women from rural areas and usually have only a ninth grade education at most.
Some employers objected to the new scheduling regulations, saying they do not suit the nature of the job.
The resolution requires overtime for working extra hours, or on official holidays; it also grants home helpers 12 vacation days a year.
Nguyen Thanh Truyen from Hanoi said it’s hard to define a time frame for the job much less to determine what "overtime" might entail.
Bich Trang, also from the capital city, said one hires a helper to reduce one's workload and it isn't possible to give them so many days off.

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