One has hardly heard of any fire mishap or accident in garment factories of Vietnam in last decade or so, and though the industry should be commended for that, one cannot deny that a lot of efforts still need to be initiated to ensure workers’ safety.
Providing the best of the safe working conditions has always been among the topmost agendas for Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS). And lately one can see the Government being proactive in ensuring the safety of garment and textile workers.
Keeping in line with this commitment, VITAS and Sustainable Trade Initiative Vietnam (IDH) had launched Life and Building Safety Initiative (LABS) on 6 August in Hanoi, which was well received by many industry experts. LABS is an effort to help the garment and footwear factories all across Vietnam meet all local and international requirements on fire, electrical and structural safety. In fact, IDH has actually built a set of safety standards that foreign brands and distributors expect from apparel and footwear factories in Vietnam. There couldn’t be a better way to provide the workers with international safety standards.
What’s more pleasing is that several renowned brands including the likes of Gap, Li & Fung, PVH and some others have come forward to help IDH set these safety standards – something that the Government needs and very well appreciates. Supporting the initiative, Hoang Ngoc Anh, Deputy Secretary General, VITAS, said that VITAS strongly promotes setting up unified standards for factory safety applied by foreign brands. But what’s important is participation from more international brands. More participation means better ideas and policies and an initiative like LABS needs more of that.
LABS is an effort initiated by brands and retailers to join public and civil society organisations and make a programme that intends to eliminate fire, electrical and structural safety risks in garment and footwear factories and importantly create awareness too. The awareness among the apparel firms in Vietnam seems to be lacking or at least is not as much as it should be.
But it was interesting to see at least 5 apparel firms in Vietnam sign collective labour pacts with their employees. The 5 factories, namely Ha Hung JSC, Viet Phat Co. Ltd., Suntex Co. Ltd., Nhat Hoa Production and Trade Co. Ltd. and Y&I Co. Ltd. recently signed an agreement with the representatives of their workers at an event hosted by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour. This was, reportedly, a part of a project that commits to promoting effective negotiation in the textile and apparel sector funded by the Dutch National Federation of Christian Trade Unions.
So what was this deal all about!
The deal distinctly states that the firms must reward the employees who work for full 12 months by paying them at least one month’s salary as a bonus at the end of the year. And it doesn’t end there! Bonus should also be given to employees who are highly productive as well as those who give innovative ideas to the company. Interesting initiative! The deal also says that the companies should provide to its employees clean and healthy meals that are worth at least 16,000 VND (per meal per person).
What else! The pact underlines that workers, in every shift, can take a short break of at least 10 minutes. Also, the said companies would have to take their employees for excursion. But, the employees must abide by the provisions of law, labour contracts, workplace rules and the labour agreements.
Good to see textile and garment companies take initiative for their workers and now they are coming together to oppose the Government’s proposal to increase the retirement age of textile workers. What’s interesting is the increasing awareness among these firms for the welfare of workers.
The Government has been planning to draft a bill wherein the retirement age of men and women will be increased to 62 (from 60) and 60 (from 55), respectively. By doing so, though the Government intends to provide secure employment for its workers and help them run their livelihood, a lot of textile firms, while condemning the proposal, have said that this will actually increase the workload of women by several manifolds as they constitute majority of the workforce. More on the same, Truong Van Cam, General Secretary, Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS) said that the Government should first increase the retirement age for administrative sector and only after 5 or 10 years, it should think of doing the same for manufacturing sector.
Bui Duc Thinh, Chairman, Song Hong Garment JSC, said at a recent seminar that women workers are already under lot of stress as they work for 10 hours –and sometimes more. He added that the existing retirement age for women as 55 was already very high and further increase would make things very difficult for them.
VITAS is hopeful that Government will definitely consider their point and why not! The Government has shown in recent years how much it is committed to provide safe and secure working conditions to its workers.
But, some more measures need to be initiated. Reportedly, social insurance funds are limited in Vietnam and the nation’s retirement and social benefit funds are expected to face a shortfall from 2023, which is a big worry. Nguyễn Thị Thu Trang, Director, WTO Integration Centre at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) said that the Government must realise the population is ageing fast and the process of recruiting workers is happening at a sluggish pace. Add to it, getting skilled workers remains a constant challenge for the industry. The Government indeed needs to draft some policies and initiate some more to address the aforementioned concerns and ensure that its garment and textile workers get safe and secure working conditions.