April 21st 2006
To Mr. John H. Sweeney
Dear Mr. Sweeney,
Thank you very much for your support for my release while I was in prison in Vietnam. Your assistance is very much appreciated, not only by me and my family, but also by the many Vietnamese people who have stood by me in the fight for justice and freedom. Vietnam is at an important junction where it is eager to enter the WTO but yet lags behind in advancing its record on human rights and worker rights. At the beginning of the 21st century, millions of Vietnamese workers still subsist with meager wages and have absolutely no ability or legal rights to form independent unions. I thought I would call to your attention about the recent strikes of the Vietnamese workers over the low wages and poor working conditions.
As you may know, from Dec 29, 2005 to Jan 4, 2006, a series of strikes took place in the city of Thu Duc, near Saigon city. It involved the companies of the Taiwanese Foreign Direct Investment and then quickly spread. Around 42,000 workers were carrying slogans prompting for increased wages and amelioration of their working conditions. To quelch the unrest, the communist authorities hastily promised a deal to increase the minimum wage of 40 USD a month to 59 USD from Feb 1, 2006. However, they then just as quickly announced the postponement of this deal, delaying its action until at least April 2006. The government’s action was so clearly insincere and inadequate that the Vietnamese workers continue their strikes, especially as no action was taken to improve their working conditions. On Jan 20, 2006, additional strikes took place at the Binh Duong province about 30 km from Saigon, for the same reasons. More than 100 workers were arrested.
According to the authority’s propaganda, employees of state-owned companies earned on average 22 USD a month while FDI employees earned double that, so that there is no ground for FDI employees to complain. But in reality, employees of state-owned companies enjoy additional benefits in allowances that equal three times their actual salaries, while FDI workers are not entitled to the same benefits. What the authority is trying to do is to keep the quoted minimal salaries artificially low to contain the wages of employees of private companies.
The workers voiced equally loudly their complaints about working in unsafe and unregulated work environments and about the the employees frequent to intimidation, violence and sexual abuses. Additionally, the companies offer no insurance for labor accidents and no overtime pay. Accidents on the job often leave the workers and their families devastated. Furthermore, the workers have no independent unions to offer them protection. The labor unions which are set up and run by the state , make deals with foreign private companies on one hand while keeping the workers in check with the other hand.
Your intervention will lend spirit and comfort to the Vietnamese workers at this difficult time. I hope you will openly support the following demands of the Vietnames workers to the Vietnamese authorities:
1. the minimum wage should be increased to comparable wages in the South East Asia region.
2. the authorities must release all strikers in custody.
3. the authorities should dismantle their state controlled unions and allow for the formation of independent labor unions.
Dr. Nguyen Dan Que
Founder & Representative of The Non Violent Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam