Workers’ well-being in the crosshairs as NA debates overtime extension

By Hoang Thuy   June 13, 2019 | 01:59 am PT
Workers’ well-being in the crosshairs as NA debates overtime extension
A man works at a mechanical factory in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Workers’ health and well-being took centerstage as Vietnamese parliament discussed raising the annual overtime limit to 400 hours.

Revisions to the Labor Code are under review at the ongoing National Assembly session. A proposed amendment will raise the overtime limit from 300 hours to 400 hours a year under special circumstances.

Vietnam’s Labor Code stipulates that an employee can work a maximum of 200 extra hours per year. In some specific areas like textiles and garments, leather, aquaculture processing, telecommunications, water and power supplies, overtime is capped at 300 hours per year.

Some lawmakers are opposed to the suggested raise, saying it would result in a work-life imbalance.

"To suggest working overtime (expansion) is going against societal progress," Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, former Chairman of Ho Chi Minh City People's Council, said at the National Assembly (NA) discussion Wednesday.

She said Vietnam should develop policies for workers so that they can work fewer hours with increased income, giving them time to rest, regain strength and work better.

Tam referred to the unfortunately common situation of factory workers unable to visit their homes regularly, having to depend on their parents to take care of their children for years.

Employers should negotiate with their employees about wage increases by the hour if they want them to work extra hours, she said.

Nguyen Thi Phuc, deputy head of the Binh Thuan Province’s NA delegation, agreed with Tam. She said the current overtime limit of 200 hours a year and 300 hours in exceptional circumstances should stay.

But other lawmakers argued that in the medical field, overtime limit is a more complicated issue.

Nguyen Quang Tuan, director of Hanoi Heart Hospital, said the bill states that workers cannot be coerced into working more hours. "Any worker has the right to work overtime; more work means more income for their family," he said.

However, Tuan also pointed out that jobs like long-distance bus drivers and airplane pilots should not be allowed to work overtime as it could endanger other people.

He cited several cases where working overtime is an inescapable option. "Many medical workers have to work overtime whether or not they want to, and whether or not they are adequately compensated."

Truong Thi Bich Hanh, a delegate from Binh Duong Province, said raising the overtime limit is a real need for both employees and employers in areas like garments, leather, and wood processing. "Even if the law does not allow extra overtime, employers themselves would still ask their staff to work the extra hours, and there are workers who want to earn the extra money."

However, she agreed that working overtime would affect the employees’ family life and health.

"If there is no law to adjust, workers will be the one who suffer, the damage will be on the workers," she said, adding that a report released in 2016 showed that businesses asking for overtime was common, with some even exceeding permitted limits by two or three times.

Minister of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, Dao Ngoc Dung, said that increasing overtime limit is a real need. He said the government has proposed to apply the increased limit only for a small number of industries and for a certain time; and the public sector would be exempted.

Dung said the ministry will consider the lawmakers’ opinions, adding: "We guarantee the rights and benefits of the workers, but we must also create conditions for sustainable business development."

The revised Labor Code will be reviewed again by the NA at its year-end session.

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. 

The firms, including those from Japan and South Korea, have proposed increasing the limit to 400 hours a year. They argued that, together with low labour productivity, the existing overtime cap was undermining their competitiveness.

According to the Korean Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, the existing overtime cap may seriously affect business operations and force enterprises to increase the number of shifts during peak-season, which will result in a substantial increase in labour costs. This view was also put forth by the Japanese Business Association in Vietnam.

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