The International Labor Organization (ILO) has praised Vietnam’s latest move to bring its legal framework closer to international standards with the adoption of its revised Labor Code on November 20.

“This is significant progress, as it will substantially improve Vietnam’s employment and industrial relations and create a solid foundation for fair international integration and trade,” said ILO Vietnam Director, Mr. Chang-Hee Lee.

This fifth edition of the Labor Code (following on from the 1994, 2002, 2006, and 2012 versions) creates an improved legal framework for employment relations, working conditions, and the representation of employers and workers. It also places greater emphasis on the use of voluntary collective negotiations, which are required for a modern socialist-oriented market economy in the process of deeper global integration.

The most important change in the revised Labor Code is the ability of workers in enterprises to exercise their right to form or join a representative organization of their own choosing, which does not have to be affiliated to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

“Freedom of association is a fundamental right under the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work,” said Mr. Lee. “It helps improve the collective bargaining process, which enables workers to get a fairer share of the profits and enterprises to negotiate the productivity improvements necessary.”

Another major improvement is the expansion of the scope of the Labor Code to protect workers who are employed but have not been provided with written employment contracts. “As a result of extensive consultation, the rights and duties of employers and workers are now clearer, while new rights and institutional processes have been created,” Mr. Lee added.

Progress can be seen in new definitions of discrimination and harassment and new freedoms given to workers to leave their job upon condition of giving appropriate notice. The law also provides clearer guidance relating to forced labor and minors, which make it easier for employers to understand what is and is not permitted and should enhance the ability of labor inspectors to advise and enforce in these areas.

Together with freedom of association, eliminating discrimination, child labor, and forced labor are the four principles set out in the eight ILO fundamental Conventions enshrined in the 1998 Declaration. Vietnam has ratified six of these Conventions, with the remaining two - Convention 105 on forced labor and Convention 87 on freedom of association - due to be ratified in 2020 and 2023.

Respecting ILO fundamental Conventions is a central requirement of new generation of free trade agreements (FTAs), including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam FTA (EVFTA), and are pivotal to the social responsibility policies of many multinational corporations.

“The revised Labor Code, which paves the way for a move towards the full realization of the 1998 ILO Declaration, is so important because it provides a better legal framework for employment and industrial relations and for equitable and sustainable growth as Vietnam makes concerted efforts to become an upper middle income country,” said Mr. Lee. “It will greatly contribute to the progressive realization of decent work for all working women and men.”

The ILO has provided technical support to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, employee and employer organizations, and the National Assembly throughout the revision process of the Labor Code since 2016. This assistance aimed to help Vietnam conduct the fullest consultation on the draft text, ensure access to evidence and research, and bridge the gaps between the national legal framework and ILO fundamental Conventions.

“The final adopted text represents significant steps towards alignment of all the four internationally-recognized fundamental principles,” said Mr. Lee. “However, gaps and room for improvement remain, as is the case in many countries.”

There are gaps in fully realizing the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality at work, while the right to freedom of association, limited in this Labor Code to workers in enterprises, will have to be expanded upon in coming years, in tandem with government efforts to ratify Convention 87 in 2023.

However, the immediate focus must now be on further elaborating the new provisions through the preparation of implementing decrees and the practical institutional preparation for their application and implementation.