Aussie labour leader applauds efforts on behalf of workers

Published: 06/11/2008 05:00



VietNamNet BridgeSharan Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and of the global International Trade Union Confederation, spoke to Viet Nam News about the confederation’s role.

The maturity and the openness of the leadership of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) depicted a challenging plan, a plan for the future that would be good for workers and good for the economy.

I was very impressed. I thought the maturity and the openness of the leadership of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) depicted a challenging plan, a plan for the future that would be good for workers and good for the economy. It takes a lot of courage to analyse where you need to reform the union movement, but it was certainly on display there on Wednesday. They gave us a great insight into the ambitions that the unions have. Clearly, they have the support of the government to deepen capacity to work with industry, and to build sustainable enterprises, so we were impressed and we wish them well.

My assessment is that they are very clear sighted; they understand that to build grassroots capacity and activism is a challenge. However, it must be done in order to improve the capacity for collective bargaining, and the capacity for working with what will be an increasingly private economy. With that level of determination, I have no doubt that they will tackle this issue. It’s inspiring for us, because in Australia we have just got through a long struggle to oppose laws that did not provide protection for working people and we are now re-building our own labour laws, and along with that looking at growth in both recruitment and, indeed, in capacity and activism. To see the Vietnamese unions talking about the same challenges is very interesting for us. Australian unions have had a long friendship with Viet Nam, so it’s nice to be here to reaffirm our friendship and reinforce our commitment to continue the relationship.

APHEDA - Australian People for Health, Education & Development Abroad, which is the humanitarian aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), has a few projects in Viet Nam. Can you give us an idea of what these are?

APHEDA has been working for corporate social responsibility in a partnership with the Finnish unions, the government and 18 separate enterprises in three different areas. That’s been a very successful project. There is also on-going work with a number of groups in social situations, which require support for people to improve their livelihood and their health, in some cases. Working with children who have been affected as a consequence of Agent Orange, in particular, disabled children; working with women who have been conned into being trafficked across the border into China – to educate them about the dangers, but also to help rehabilitate and re-settle them back into their communities when they return. We are working in a number of areas of occupational health and safety, skills training and working with rural youth. We are trying to help them re-skill, so that they can either get their own jobs or get a job in the community.

We are particularly interested in expanding work with helping the unions with capacity building. There is a major ILO project that has been launched in HCM City called Better Work, and it’s an engagement of management and workers at the workplace in the textile and garment industry. So, we have spent time talking to the garment union and working out how we might best assist them to develop capacity to manage or engage in what has been a very successful project in Cambodia, and now in other parts of the world, so we are now very optimistic about the opportunities for working with this union in particular – the National Garment Union.

How difficult will it be for you to give the unions practical help in capacity building?

Look, I think this point in their development – as outlined by the president yesterday in his speech – gives us a great opportunity. We believe that the corporate social responsibility work that’s already gone on here demonstrates how unions can effectively manage a modern relationship with their employers in the interests of both the rights and the advancement of workers interests, but also the quality and the productivity of the production process. It’s instructive to see that both unions are questioning the framework in which the extreme capitalist events of the financial crisis have damaged jobs for workers, and both of us have an ambition to see the governance of both our economies and the global economy that works for working people, as well as for business and industry. So, I think that the common experience, the common questions and challenges we are all asking and are determined to face, allow us to work together and to assist our colleagues here in Viet Nam. The ILO project for Better Work is one area where we would hope that our own APHEDA can work with the unions to build capacity in the garment and textile industry for union members, and when you are talking about a pilot project of 75 factories in HCM City and a project of potentially 800, that’s a good challenge for us to get on with.

What is your advice about collective bargaining?

The VGCL is very focused now on developing the capacity for collective bargaining and the security that collective agreements brings to workers and to businesses.

I would hope that we could help the VGCL build that capacity, because for workers all around the world the system of collective bargaining is the best way that workers can establish their rights; they can negotiate appropriate conditions, and they can get a fair share of the wealth of the companies in wages.

The pre-requisite for collective bargaining is to belong to a union. Then it must be understood you have a right to bargain, and then be supported in the training that gives you an understanding of the industry in which you are working, the role of the business, the wealth of the business and the kind of conditions, wages and skills that you would bargain around to make sure that you build the business. This will help you get a fair share of the wealth that is generated in wages and make sure that workforce skills are increased so that you keep building on the productive base of the company.

(Source: Viet Nam News)

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