Strikes spreading in Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi – Thousands of workers at four factories in Ho Chi Minh City have gone on strike, Vietnamese press reported Thursday, joining 8,000 shoe factory workers who laid down their tools early this week, as inflation concerns sparked labor unrest in the country’s largest city.

The companies hit included Japanese-owned sewing machine manufacturer Juki, with 1,400 workers, and electronic parts manufacturer TTTI, with 1,000, according to the Vietnamese newspaper Ho Chi Minh City Law. The striking workers are demanding raises of up to 20 per cent.

On Monday, workers at the Chi Hung joint-venture footwear company struck for higher pay and better factory-provided lunches.

A trade union official at Chi Hung, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ha, said Thursday that a few of the workers had returned to work, although the company had not agreed to raise their wages.

‘They probably returned because they were afraid they would lose their jobs,’ Ha said.

Salaries at the company average 845,000 Vietnamese dong per month, a bit over 52 dollars, said Phan Van Ha, an official at the provincial labor union. He said workers complain this is no longer enough to live on.

Inflation in Vietnam ran at over 10 per cent in 2007, and food prices are rising even faster, hitting low-income factory workers hard.

The Vietnam General Confederation of Labourers, the country’s state-run trade union, says there were 541 strikes nationwide last year, involving 350,000 workers. Most of the strikes occurred at foreign-invested enterprises.

Technically, all unions in Communist Vietnam must be affiliated with the national union. But in practice, because union officials are partly affiliated with the companies they work for, wildcat strikes called by spontaneously organized groups of workers are common.

The union then steps in to mediate between workers and management.

‘We have worked with the workers’ leaders and the officials of the company regarding the strike, but no solution has been worked out,’ said Ha, the union official at Chi Hung. ‘The company isn’t violating any regulation by refusing to raise the workers’ salary, but the workers are striking because their salary is not enough for their daily life. It’s a difficult situation, and we don’t know what to do next.’


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