On May 15, 2019 in Hanoi, CARE International in Vietnam (CARE) and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) co-organised a consultation workshop on the draft (revised) Labour Code. The discussions focused on the retirement age adjustment and regulations on the prevention of sexual harassment at workplace.

Participants included leaders of VGCL, National Assembly members, labour and gender specialists, representatives of workers from different professions and press agencies. The workshop was co-chaired by Ms. Le Kim Dung, Country Director of CVN, and Mr. Ngo Duy Hieu, Vice President of the VGCL.

Diverse expectation of retirement age

Mr. Bui Sy Loi spoke about positive effects of narrowing the retirement age gap between men and women on the job market and women’s career. Photo: Giang Vu/CARE

In the first session about narrowing down the retirement age gap between male and female workers, Mr. Le Dinh Quang, Representative of VGCL explained the reasons for proposing a gradual increase of the retirement age for men (62 years of age) and women (60) from now until 2030, which is mainly to avoid a shock to the labour force and the job market. Ms. Pham Hai Ha, Trade Union Chairperson of SEI Electronic Components Vietnam, LTD; Ms. Dinh Bich Ha, Vice Principal of Viet Trieu – Huu Nghi School; and Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Hien, 48 years old, worker at TNG Investment and Trading Joint Stock Company (Thai Nguyen province) all said that most of their colleagues and they themselves want to retire earlier. According to Mr. Bui Sy Loi, Vice Chairperson of the National Assembly’s Social Affair Committee, increasing the retirement age may cause several negative impacts. One was the possibility that the employees would not be productive during the years extended from the current retirement age. Yet, he emphasised various positive effects. The current proposed draft will help narrow the gender gap in employment, thus partially narrowing the pension gap. At the same time, the longer the working time is, the more possible it is for women to hold higher positions.

According to the Deputy Director of the Vietnam Women’s Academy, Ms. Ha Thi Thanh Van, the retirement age should not be prescribed based on gender but on professions. Examples include public administrative employees or employees in hazardous areas. Ms. Van also emphasised that during law making processes, it is also important to take existing conditions and the principle of gender equality into account. Based on such principles, she proposed the draft to stipulate the minimum retirement age and leave the final decision for the employed.

Enterprises lack the legal framework to handle sexual harassment

In the second session, Mr. Nguyen Van Binh, Deputy Director of the Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, mentioned major limitations of the 2012 Labour Code. It misses a legal definition of “sexual harassment” and “workplace” definition. It doesn’t have specific regulations on related parties’ responsibilities. It doesn’t bring in procedures to report sexual harassment behaviours. Last but not least, it doesn’t include penalties to sexual harassment.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Dieu Hong, a specialist in social security, said that the venues where sexual harassment occurs are diverse. She also reminded that not only women but men are also sexually harassed. She suggested that the definition of “workplace” should be included in the general regulation of the draft Labour Code, not just in the clause of sexual harassment (Clause 10, Article 3). Meanwhile, according Dr. Duong Thanh Mai, former Director of the Institute of Legal Sciences (Ministry of Justice), it is time to have a mechanism to move the burden of proof away from the complainant to making the employer responsible to prove that is no sexual harassment.

Dr. Do Ngan Binh, Deputy Director of the Legal Counseling Center (Hanoi Law University), said that enterprises, especially export-oriented ones, are concerned about the issue, but they are facing many difficulties. They do not know which legal documents they can use as reference, and they usually can not gather enough evidence to establish a sexual harassment case. She believed the scope of the current definition of sexual harassment is too narrow, but acknowledged that it also should not be too specific. Thus, according to Ms. Binh, a more detailed definition should be included in a follow-up decree. Regarding the scope of the “workplace”, she proposed the Drafting Committee to consult the definition given in the upcoming new convention of the International Labour Organisation on violence and harassment in the world of work. She also proposed the revised Labour Code to empower enterprises to unilaterally terminate contracts of employees who commit acts of sexual harassment.

In addition to this workshop funded by the Australian Government through the Investing in Women initiative, CARE and VGCL had organised a series of meetings to help members of the National Assembly meet and learn about the topic of sexual harassment, retirement age, labour division, and equal pay for equal work from workers and trade unions representatives in several garment factories across the three regions of Vietnam.