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Labour activists jailed in Vietnam

Photo: OxfamAus

Amnesty International reports that last month three Vietnamese labor activists have been jailed for up to 9 years for initiating strikes for better pay. The activists, who are aged in their 20’s, helped to organise a rally of around 10,000 workers at the My Phong leather shoes company in January 2010. At the rally they distributed pamphlets that expressed discontent about working conditions.

In late October Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung was issued a sentence of nine years imprisonment, while Doan Huy Chuong and Do Thi Minh Hanh were each sentenced to seven years in jail.

Amnesty International along with international labour rights activists have condemned the heavy sentences and called for an immediate release the three organizers.

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Action against the odds

Vietnam has experienced ongoing high inflation making it difficult for low waged workers in Vietnam to make ends meet. According to the General Statistics Office in Hanoi, from November 2009–2010 inflation is 9.66%, with prices in the sub-category including rice increasing as much as 20.45%.

Despite a difficult climate for industrial action, many Vietnamese workers have been active in advocating for improved pay and conditions.

The Vietnam Confederation of Labour reports that there were 139 strikes in the first five months of 2010. In a recent action in October, 2000 workers from a shoe factory went on strike for more than a week to ask for an increase in minimum wages VND1,320,000 (US$68) to VND1,500,000 (US $77), and better meals. The factory is owned by Korean sports shoe manufacturer Samsil Tongsang Vina, which supplies to brands such as DC Shoes Inc, Airwalk, Asics and Sketchers. So far there are no reports of any resolution to this dispute.

Other industrial actions paint a more hopeful picture. Following a six-day strike at a Taiwanese garment manufacturer in mid-October, company management agreed to meet the workers’ demands for improved conditions as well as to pay the workers’ salaries during the protest. The Taipei-based garment company supplies for brands including Wal-Mart, Gap and Target.

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