Migrant workers need help
by Hong Thuy
Concern for Vietnamese workers abroad as local labour export firms do brisk business.
HA NOI — The recent revelation of poor living and working conditions for many Vietnamese workers overseas underscores a dire need to rein in the mushroom growth of local labour export companies and protect labourer rights, according to consultants.
"Often Vietnamese workers are promised one thing and then when they go to foreign countries to work they get different conditions and contracts," said Philip Robertson, technical advisor on Migration and Workers Rights for Southeast Asia Regional Co-operation in Human Development project, better known as Search.
Search played a part in providing financial and technical support to the Viet Nam National Consultation on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers held in the capital yesterday.
Opinions raised during the consultation are expected to be presented to State and functioned offices to improve the living and working conditions of migrant workers.
In one severe case, female workers were raped and beaten after going to Taiwan through a brokerage company run by a father and son named Hung Ching-chang and Hung Ming-yu.
Another victim named Nguyen Thi Hoa (not her real name) said she was not the only person who was threatened that it would cost her a job if she did not agree to have sexual intercourse with the son.
Though abuse may be an extreme example of what happens to unprotected workers, it demonstrates the vulnerability of workers out of their own country and how unaware the Government often was when it came to their circumstances.
Philip revealed that many Vietnamese authorities did not know what was really happening with workers in Malaysia.
"They do not know that employers are changing contracts or that agencies are changing contracts," he said.
The problems were not isolated to Malaysia, with the same problems occurring when workers were sent to the Middle East, Singapore or Taiwan, Philip added.
Nguyen Xuan Nga, deputy director of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour’s Socio-Economic Policies Department, agreed that the issue was a serious problem.
Nga said that some foreign employers had violated labour contracts that they had signed with Vietnamese workers, forcing them to work in hard jobs with longer than promised hours.
Worse still, wages and bonuses were less than agreed upon in labour contracts with Vietnamese workers, he said.
Nga attributed the situation partially to the shortage of employees at labour management boards in foreign countries and territories where Vietnamese labourers were working.
He said there have been no trade union offices to monitor and protect the legitimate rights of Vietnamese workers in foreign countries and territories, except in the Russian Federation.
"These tasks are entirely entrusted to labour export companies," Nga admitted.
Viet Nam Lawyers’ Association President Pham Quoc Anh said the neglect by many labour export companies was adversely impacting migrant workers’ rights.
With more than 150 labour export companies nationwide, Anh said it was essential to streamline these companies to keep them under close and direct control by labour, invalid and social affairs departments in cities and provinces.
"Each city or province should have one or two labour export companies at most," he said, "By doing so, functioned offices can manage them closely and fraudulent brokerage can be avoided."
Anh emphasised the necessity to tighten up the role of State offices in labour export companies which were mostly run for profit while ignoring the legitimate rights of migrant workers.
To minimise fraudulence, Anh called upon Vietnamese embassies and consulates in foreign countries and territories where migrant workers were working to take part in verifying the responsibility of foreign brokerage companies in receiving and introducing migrant workers to work in their countries.
"We should not leave the responsibility of monitoring and protecting migrant workers’ rights on local labour export companies," Anh said.
Under Viet Nam’s law, countries and territories which want to hire Vietnamese migrant workers have to register with the Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Ministry.
In most cases, the ministry will give authority to labour export companies to recruit and send people to work abroad. Those companies are then independently responsible to contact and work with foreign brokerage companies taking on migrant workers.
"How the labour contract is implemented is important," said Sinapan Samydorai, a consultant at the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers.
He said labour businesses should use some of the money they earn from migrant workers to set up labour offices and buy insurance for workers.
"You already have the money," he said.
Spread all over
Viet Nam has been sending workers abroad since 1980. From 10,000 migrant workers in 15 countries and territories in 1995, the number of labourers has increased to 500,000 in 40 countries and territories at present.
The country set a target to send more than 1 million workers abroad by 2010.
According to the World Bank, official remittances from workers in all of ASEAN were worth US$26 billion and Viet Nam had 15 per cent of that, or close to $5.7 billion in 2005.
Labour export has helped generate jobs and alleviate poverty, especially for people living in rural and mountain areas.
Viet Nam’s workers are assured protection under the recently amended Labour Code, the Law on Contract-based Workers Abroad, and many other legal and guiding documents.
The issuance of the Law on Contract-based Workers Aboard in 2006, in particular, is believed to have helped put labour export in order and expand Viet Nam’s labour markets to other foreign countries. — VNS