Lawmakers oppose increase in annual overtime cap

By Hoang Thuy   September 20, 2019 | 11:00 pm PT
Lawmakers oppose increase in annual overtime cap
Laborers work at a garment assembly line in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, July 9, 2019. Photo by Reuters/Yen Duong.
Vietnamese lawmakers are opposed to a proposal that will increase the maximum allowed overtime from 300 to 400 hours per year.

Current laws dictate that a worker’s maximum number of overtime hours cannot exceed half the number of working hours per day, 30 hours per month and 300 hours per year.

A committee drafting amendments to the current Labor Code have proposed that the cap on overtime hours be increased to satisfy the needs of a section of workers and businesses, and increase flexibility and versatility in production.

However, this would "go against the world’s progressive trends," said Ha Ngoc Chien, chairman of the Council for Ethnic Minority Affairs at a National Assembly session Friday, adding that authorities should instead worry about ensuring workers’ health and quality of life.

While an increase in the maximum number of overtime hours is wanted by both workers and businesses, the latter’s benefits outweigh those of the former, said Nguyen Thanh Hai, head of the Committee for People’s Aspirations. As such, the number of overtime hours should be reduced five years from now, she added.

"If we keep increasing the number of shifts, workers will not have time to enjoy the social products that they help create, like amusement parks and other recreational areas," said Hai.

Too many working hours prevent female workers from taking care of their families and children, said Ngo Duy Hieu, vice chairman of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

If an increase in overtime hours aims to improve productivity, businesses would not be encouraged to advance their technologies to increase it, but would be advised to rely on human workforce instead, said the National Assembly General Secretary Nguyen Hanh Phuc. He also stressed that modern technology must be used to increase productivity.

"If we cannot not reduce the current number of working hours, we should at least keep it that way," he said.

Several foreign firms have long been asking that the overtime limit be raised, arguing that it is currently much lower than that of Vietnam's neighbors. They said together with low labour productivity the existing cap is undermining their competitiveness and forcing enterprises to increase the number of shifts during peak season, resulting in a substantial increase in labor costs.

This view was also put forth by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and the Japanese Business Association in Vietnam.

Countries around Vietnam allow around 600 hours of overtime each year per worker, with Japan at 700 and Malaysia having no limits, said Nguyen Xuan Duong, deputy chairman of Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association at meeting on Monday.

"When foreign investors find that are likely to violate the overtime rule in Vietnam, they could take their production chains to other markets," he said.

The proposed amendment to the Labor Code would be reviewed again at another National Assembly session next month.

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