Having manual workers work more than others 'unfair': labor confederation

By Doan Loan   September 23, 2019 | 07:56 pm PT
Having manual workers work more than others 'unfair': labor confederation
A woman works at a garment assembly line in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, July 9, 2019. Photo by Reuters/Yen Duong.
It is unfair that manual workers have to work eight hours more per week than others, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor says.

Le Dinh Quang, deputy head of its labor affairs division, told VnExpress on Monday that more working hours mean less downtime, reduced productivity and heightened risk of occupational health hazards.

Vietnamese laws require manual workers to work 48 hours a week against only 40 for all others.

But Quang said Convention 47 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) approved a 40-hour work week without reducing living standards, and many countries are actively trying to reduce the number of working hours and increase downtime for workers, with only around 40 countries still having a 48-hour work week.

Besides, the total number of working hours per year in Vietnam is 2,320 and the country has only 10 public holidays, while Convention 132 of the ILO states that all workers should be entitled to annual paid holidays of no less than three working weeks for every year of service, he said.

As a result, workers have little time for themselves or their families, find partners or interact with society, he pointed out.

"In industrial complexes, [workers] begin their day before sunrise and work overtime at night, and so lead poor lives, financially and spiritually. Many parents work during weekends, and so pay to have their children taken care of by others. It is a vicious cycle."

Long working hours also pose more health risks to manual workers and reduce productivity. A study by the Ministry of Health of 15 million workers between 2006 and 2016 found the percentage of workers with health condition in Category 1 (the best) falling from 36 percent between 2006-10 to 19 percent between 2011-16.

Another study by the U.S.’s Cornell University found that for every 10 percent increase in the number of working hours, workers’ productivity reduces by 2.4 percent, Quang said.

Businesses’ responsibility

Asked about business executives' claim that Vietnam could not afford to have more public holidays given its low labor productivity and relatively underdeveloped status, Quang said the low overall productivity is because of the high percentage of workers in agriculture, and it is not an issue in other sectors like machinery and garment.

"Society cannot place the burden of productivity on workers; it is the government and businesses’ responsibility [to increase labor productivity]. They need to find a way to make agriculture less labor-intensive.

"If low productivity is due to workers, then government institutions also need to work 48 hours per week, not just manual workers."

Many businesses also make their employees work overtime instead of hiring more people to reduce costs, and authorities are failing to penalize this practice, he lamented.

Cost could instead be cut by management overhaul, use of modern technologies and other ways, he said.

Earlier this month the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor had proposed cutting the working hours to 44 and adding three public holidays.

There are two options for the addition: extending the Independence Day holiday on September 2 by three more days to coincide with the start of the new school year or having a three-day break for the New Year (January 1-3) and declaring Vietnamese Family Day on June 28 a public holiday.

The confederation is assessing the feedback from workers and businesses that have reduced the number of weekly working hours to 40 to determine the likely impact of the three extra holidays.

An online survey this month by the confederation saw 81 percent of around 1,300 workers voting to reduce the workweek from 48 hours to 44.

It is set to submit its recommendations to the National Assembly next month.

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