Laborers must unite to obtain salary increase

By Dinh   March 14, 2022 | 08:20 pm PT
Laborers must unite to obtain salary increase
Workers at a factory making barcode readers in HCMC's Thu Duc City in 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong
Lately, the story of low-paid workers struggling to afford basic needs has drawn public attention amid escalating fuel and commodity prices.

Before making my point, I have several stories I would like to tell: One time, I wanted to use a delivery tricycle service to transfer a used fridge. I met a driver and asked him how much it cost to deliver the fridge. He told me it would be VND400,000 ($17.47).

Thinking the price was quite high, I asked another driver, and then another. I ended up asking more than a few drivers in the neighborhood. They all told me the lowest price they could offer me was VND420,000. Surprisingly, some of the drivers even asked me if I wanted to deliver a fridge even before I told them.

Another time, I asked a friend to take me to one of the delivery tricycle drivers. As my friend placed an order to deliver a washing machine, I watched from afar.

My friend was informed of the price and visites other drivers for comparison.

As my friend left, the first drivers immediately called others, telling them about the deal. As a result, my friend ended up asking five different drivers and they all offered prices that were nearly the same.

Later, I learned that the drivers worked as a team and always called each other one step ahead of customers to ensure there would be no dumping.

The second story was told by an acquaintance of mine in the Mekong Delta.

That person said "dumping is an everyday story" at seafood farms that usually sell products to foreign traders.

Trader A met farmer B to buy seafood. Then, A met farmer C, saying the price of VND25,000 per kilo that B offered was too high and A did not want to buy.

As a result, C dropped the price to VND24,000, but A still refused and met other farmers until the price fell to only VND18,000 per kilo, which means farmers got no profit.

Returning to the story of low-paid workers, I see that most companies have their own policies to raise salaries each year with an annual salary increase rate, but they never publicize these figures. For inflation, however, there is no policy.

In most cases, laborers do not know anything about salary policies and how their wages would be raised each year.

Once they sign a contract, they can no longer complain if the payment is too low or if they are not offered salary increases.

When commodity prices rise and salaries cannot cover basic needs, laborers should have the right to demand companies raise their salaries. That is a legitimate right.

The market determines the price of labor and workers will have to create the main impact on the formation of their minimum wage. That is my point.

When most laborers unite and only agree to work in an industry with a minimum wage of VND10 million per month, then the labor market for that industry would have to pay them correspondingly.

On the contrary, if a majority of laborers accept the salary of some industry at just VND4 million per month, then the market will develop in the same direction.

Actually, the two stories I raise above both show that if laborers stay united and impact the market, they can be the ones to decide the price of their labor power. That is how the market economy functions.

Before deciding to sign a contract, laborers must set a salary range that they feel satisfied to bargain with their employers. If many laborers have the same determination, the minimum wage will be set by themselves.

In contrast, if laborers are too in need of a job or too afraid they could lose the opportunity to others and choose to sign a contract even when knowing salaries are low, it would be very difficult for them to ask for a salary increase in the future.

It is not entirely correct to say that foreign businesses invest in Vietnam only because of the cheap labor cost.

When working with staff from other Southeast Asian countries, I saw that Vietnamese workers operate faster and smarter. I believe that foreign companies invest in Vietnam because Vietnamese laborers have good qualities.

In conclusion, unity is strength, like the drivers in the first story who had come up with a consensus on the price, so that no one can force them to reduce the price. In such cases, the role of trade unions will be very important.

Editor’s note: According to the Research Center for Employment Relations, since 1995, 96 percent of laborers’ strikes to demand salary increases have been successful, with employers having to accept either a part of all requirements placed by workers.

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