The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal that has been touted as a foundation for “21st century trade” by US President Barack Obama could allow millions of workers in Vietnam’s export-orientated factories, which are driving impressive economic growth, to form independent trade unions. The TPP seeks to liberalise commerce in some 40 per cent of the global economy, if ratified would oblige signatories including the US, Japan, Canada and Vietnam, to allow independent trade unions.
But labour activist like Do Thi Minh Hanh say the one-party state is a long way from concretely committing to that kind of change. Hanh who was released from prison in 2014 but lives under constant police surveillance says Vietnam still wants to maintain its monopoly on trade unions. Currently, all unions are part of the Vietnam Confederation of Labour, which is older than the ruling communist party.
The lack of meaningful representation is counterproductive as it leads to more wildcat strikes, said labour activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. Quynh is also not optimistic about the TPP as no one can ensure that the trade unions will be independent and will listen to workers’ concerns. The TPP contains a controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism which allows companies to take governments to court if they feel their rights are violated.
Vietnam’s low-wage economy relies heavily on exports, is projected to see the biggest percentage boost to the economy of any country in the TPP — about 10 per cent by 2030, mostly due to textiles and apparel, according to World Bank figures.
Last year, the economy grew at 6.68 per cent, its fastest pace in five years, partially thanks to record foreign investment. But in order to attract new high-quality TPP-linked investment, the communist country, which has the lowest GDP per capita and competitiveness ranking of the group, will have to introduce wide-ranging reforms.