500 Vietnamese textile workers wildcat for pay increase

About 500 workers at a joint-venture garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City have launched a wildcat strike.

Tran Van Truong, a police official in the ward where the Minh Phat Garment Company is located, said officers had been sent to the factory 'in case workers take extreme action, like damaging property.'

Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre reported Tuesday that workers at the Vietnamese-South Korean joint venture had struck the previous day for higher pay and better conditions. Workers protested long working hours, sometimes lasting until 10pm, and trial employment periods lasting up to 7 months, rather than the 3 months common at other companies.

Nguyen Van Bang, deputy chairman of the local district chapter of Vietnam's government-run trade union, said workers at Minh Phat have a starting salary of 1,284,000 dong (72 dollars) per month. Workers are asking for a small raise, but have not specified the amount they are demanding.

In Vietnam, strikes are typically launched independently by informal groups of workers. Local government and union officials like Bang then negotiate between workers and management. Union officials are not exclusively loyal to workers' interests, but take government and company interests into account.

"The attitudes of the company's leaders is good," Bang said. "Their reasons for refusing a salary hike are reasonable." Bang said the company was in a difficult situation due to the global economic crisis, and lacked the money to grant raises. "The company will terminate striking workers' contracts if they don't return to work," Bang said.

Vietnam's national trade union registered 46 wildcat strikes in the first three months of 2009, compared with 113 cases in the same period last year. Strikes rose in 2008 due a high 23-per-cent inflation rate. In 2009 they have slowed in part due to worker anxiety over job security.