Vietnam lags far behind in setting healthy work hours: lawmakers

By Hoang Thuy, Viet Tuan   October 23, 2019 | 05:43 am PT
Vietnam lags far behind in setting healthy work hours: lawmakers
Workers manufacture mechanical components at a factory in the northern Vinh Phuc Province. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Colors.
Vietnam is 80 years behind developed countries in approving a 40-hour work week law, which is needed to ensure workers’ quality of life, lawmakers say.

Ho Chi Minh City party chief Nguyen Thien Nhan said at a National Assembly session Wednesday that the U.S. passed the 40-hour work week law in 1940, and other countries followed suit.

But in Vietnam, manual workers still have to work 48 hours a week, which is unfair compared to other workers who only have to work 40 hours, he said.

Nhan said that he supports a proposal from the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor that cuts working hours to 44 a week. He also proposed for this to be cut further to 40 hours by 2030.

Another HCMC delegate, Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, said that workers only work overtime because their income cannot cover basic living costs. Many workers have to send their children to the countryside to be brought up by grandparents as they have no time to raise the kids on their own.

"Some workers have not seen their children for two years."

Phung Thi Huong, a delegate from the northern province of Vinh Phuc, said that some workers leave home early in the morning and return late at night when their kids have already slept.

Even though they volunteer to work overtime, workers are still pressed to do so to receive bonuses and to keep a long-term contract, she added.

On another proposal from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to increase overtime cap from 300 hours a year to 400, Nhan said that in the short term, this could increase employees’ income and businesses’ profits, but in the long term, workers’ health will decline.

Working extra hours doesn’t guarantee an increase in productivity, which could only be done by applying new technology and reducing working hours, he added.

However, Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Nguyen Ngoc Dung said that reducing working hours to 44 a week could slow down Vietnam’s economic growth, and the proposal deserved careful evaluation.

89.6 percent of companies in Vietnam run a 48-hour work week, 3.6 percent work 44 hours and 6.8 percent work 40 hours, he said.

In Southeast Asia, eight countries have a 48-hour work week like Vietnam, and only Indonesia and Singapore work less hours.

In Indonesia, working hours were reduced only to lower the unemployment rate.

Singapore’s per capita income last year was $65,000, 12 times that of Vietnam.

"Bigger economies can work with less time, but smaller ones need to work more," the minister said.

If Vietnam lowers its work week by four hours, labor costs will increase by 17 percent a year, leading to a decrease in exports value by $20 billion, reducing economic growth by 0.5 percent a year, he added.

Vu Tien Loc, chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued that the 48 hour work week should remain and overtime cap should increase to 400 hours to ensure Vietnam’s competitiveness with other countries.

Lowering working hours will negatively affect Vietnam’s economic growth as the country’s manual workers productivity is among the lowest in the region, he said.

"As their income will decline with less hours, workers will still look for other jobs to increase their income," he added.

The proposals on work hours and overtime cap are set to be voted on during the ongoing session of the National Assembly that will run until November 27.

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