Thousands of employees at a factory in southern Vietnam returned to work Thursday after a week-long strike after the central government agreed to amend a policy on social insurance coverage that had prompted the unrest.
The strike at the Pou Yuen Vietnam footwear factory at the Tan Tao Industrial Park outside of Ho Chi Minh City began on March 26, when as many as 90,000 employees protested the law, which prohibits workers from collecting a lump-sum payment of the insurance if they resign, and would go into effect next year.
Minister and chairman of the government office Nguyen Van Nen said the government would revise a clause in the law requiring workers to wait until retirement age—60 for men and 55 for women—to collect their insurance payments, the official Than Nien daily newspaper reported Thursday.
"The government has agreed to request the National Assembly—Vietnam's legislature—to amend the term in the Social Insurance Law and allow employees to continue receiving lump sum payments if they no longer wish to stay in the state's pension program,” it said.
Reuters news agency quoted Nguyen Tran Phuong Tran, deputy chairwoman of the Ho Chi Minh City Labor Union, as saying that workers had returned to the factory after seeing news reports that all social insurance policies would stay unchanged until year-end.
The strike at the Taiwanese-owned factory—which makes shoes for companies, including Adidas and Nike, as well as for brands such as Converse and Reebok—marked a rare demonstration against government policy in the tightly-controlled communist nation.
Vietnam is known for taking a hard line with unrest that has affected other textile-manufacturing rivals, such as China and Cambodia.
The Pou Yuen protests were peaceful, with thousands of workers marching around the factory, spilling out onto nearby roads and blocking traffic as police looked on.
Earlier attempts by local labor officials to meet with the strikers to explain the social insurance policy fell on deaf ears.
Sending a signal
Nguyen Quang, the former director of the Institute of Development Studies think tank in Vietnam, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the strike served as a lesson to the government to include the public in policy decisions.
“The people’s spirit must be included in policy-making, but in a one-party regime there is no limit to power,” he said.
“Perhaps the goal of the policies are not bad, but they do not reflect the reality nor fit the situation in Vietnam and it leads to chaos like what we have seen recently.”
Quang said the Pou Yuen workers would not have taken to the streets if they didn’t care about government changes to the law.
“That was the social reaction and it sent the policy makers a signal,” he said.
“Such strike and rally by 90,000 workers made the government sit down to reconsider and come to the conclusion that they would have to give their recommendations to the National Assembly [to amend the policy].”
Prominent blogger and activist Nguyen Van Thanh told RFA that without an open forum for debate in Vietnam, the people are only left with official organizations, such as the labor union, to submit their opinions on policy.
“They have no motivation [to push for change] as they don’t represent for the interests of people,” he said.
Reported by Nam Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.