Two days of labor law seminars for me – one at the Ministry of Labor and the other at the Ministry’s labor university – while Professor Markham gets the students settled and lectures on antitrust law before the Vietnam Competition Agency. The Vietnamese are particularly interested in labor issues as their labor laws are in the throes of a major revision. 12 years ago, USF trained labor judges in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and as recently as this past January, hosted a Vietnamese labor delegation that asked us to critique the latest version of the labor code. In March, we followed up with an analysis – particularly portions relating to trade unions – and the seminars were a follow on to that analysis.
Both days of labor talks focused on an overview of our labor laws with a particular emphasis on union-employer relations, an issue with which Vietnam struggles mightily. The second seminar at the labor university maintained a similar focus but also included discussions about labor education in law schools. The Vietnamese are very interested in our rich mix of substantive courses, clinics, student organizations, and connections with alumni as we fashion education focused on worker justice – an area of particular strength at USF.
• The contrast between the ministry audience and the labor university attendees: The former majority male, older, more seasoned and clearly more focused on the substantive law and the implementation of the new labor (whenever it might take final form). The latter, virtually all labor law professors and lecturers, all very young and almost entirely female. All were interested in our structure (and surprised at the small percentage of our workforce that is unionized), but also very concerned about how to educate working people about the labor laws and how to educate lawyers and officials to effectively implement the labor code.
• The issues: So similar to ours in so many ways – achieving worker/employer balance to protect the interests of both, and establishing dispute resolution procedures to resolve problems early. But Vietnam’s conflict between a centralized state and allowing workers the right to freely associate is quickly apparent as is the fact that the interest in dispute resolution is motivated by the recognition that government processes – administrative and the courts – are not up to the task of handling the workplace strife in this nation of nearly 100,000,000 million people.
• The reality: Despite the labor code drafts, any final resolution of the labor code is a long ways off, a fact that may not be explicitly admitted but which is obvious as the dialogue continues (and a fact exacerbated by the pendency of the next People’s Congress which will help set Vietnam’s future course.)