With ILO, Vietnam Moves To Crush Labour Gender Gap

324 views | Akanimo Sampson | March 15, 2020

Female waged workers in Vietnam are earning about 11 per cent less than men and the share of women in management positions barely reaches 28 per cent.

Interestingly, Vietnam’s new Labour Code, adopted in November 2019, aims to tackle this gender gap. 

As the most comprehensive legal document for the world of work created in Vietnam, it addresses several areas where inequalities currently exist.

Vietnamese women have long shouldered a double burden. 

A well-known Vietnamese slogan, Giỏi việc nước – đảm việc nhà, created in the 1980s, encourages them to be “good at national tasks (which refers to paid employment) and good at housework”.

And the female population responded enthusiastically to this call to develop their country. More than 70 per cent of working-age women are either employed or looking for a job, compared to the global average of 48 per cent.

Despite this commitment, women have not been rewarded with equality. 

Bridging the retirement age gap

One provision narrows the gender gap in retirement age, from five to two years. When the Code enters into force in January 2021, the retirement age for women will gradually increase to 60 rather than the current age of 55.

Duong Thi Mai, a sports coach in Vietnam’s northern province of Thai Nguyen, is enthusiastic about this change: “I love my work and believe gender equality at work is important”, she said.

The 35-year-old recalls how difficult it has been to keep up with her job requirements, start a family, raise her two sons and advance her career at the same time.

“As female coaches, we already lose valuable training and advancement opportunities if they take place during our pregnancy. Then when all the childbearing and caring duties are over, women could finally bring their work capacity into full play but ironically their path soon reaches the end. 

‘’So I am really happy that the Labour Code now allows women to retire later. This would help us advance as far as men in our career.”

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination

Other new provisions in the Labour Code address sexual harassment in the workplace, the gender pay gap, and offer pregnant women and new mothers greater protection from losing their jobs or discrimination. 

A wide range of occupations and economic activities that were previously closed to women, ostensibly for their protection, are now open to female workers.

Ngo Thi Kim Thanh, a midline manager in a garment company in Nam Dinh Province, supports this approach. As a pregnant young mother, she wants to be able to decide for herself whether she can travel for work, do night shifts or take up certain jobs. “It should be the choice made by women themselves”, she says.

From protection to empowerment

According to the Vice Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Nguyen Thi Ha, these revisions represent a shift in approach, from protecting women to empowering all workers, women and men alike. 

 ”The revision of the Labour Code was an opportunity to improve legal policies for female workers and promote gender equality”, she explains.

Under the revised Code workers will also have the right to establish representative organizations of their choosing at the enterprise level. 

Kimberly Sayers-Fay, manager of the ILO’s New Industrial Relations Framework (NIRF) project, notes that this can greatly benefit women.

“While many aspects of the Labour Code equally impact all workers – female and male, others have a gender effect and many of them have seen progress towards fundamental principles and rights at work including non-discrimination in employment and occupation.”

“Since women comprise a large portion of production workers, this will give them a new avenue to raise their voices on working conditions”, she explains.

“However female workers in Viet Nam – as in many other countries – remain far from being equal to their male counterparts”, Sayers-Fay says, adding, “women account for nearly half of Viet Nam’s labour force, it is about time their productive potential was promoted and rewarded fairly.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was involved in the revision of the Labour Code, through several channels. 

One was the New Industrial Relations Framework (NIRF) project. This assistance helped Viet Nam undertake wide-ranging and comprehensive consultations on the changes, get access to research and evidence, and bridge the gaps between the national legal framework and the ILO’s fundamental Conventions – which offer internationally-accepted work-related standards.

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