Workers must unite for a pay rise

Before making my point, I have several stories I would like to tell: I once wanted to use a tricycle delivery service to transfer a used refrigerator. I met a driver and asked him how much it cost to deliver the fridge. He told me it would be 400,000 VND ($17.47).

Thinking the price was quite high, I asked for another driver, then another. I ended up asking for more than a few neighborhood drivers. They all told me that the lowest price they could offer me was 420,000 VND. Surprisingly, some drivers even asked me if I wanted to deliver a fridge before I even told them.

Another time I asked a friend to take me to one of the delivery tricycle drivers. As my friend placed an order to deliver a washing machine, I watched from afar.

My friend was told about the price and is visiting other drivers for comparison.

When my friend left, the first drivers immediately called the others to tell them about the case. As a result, my friend ended up asking five different drivers and they all offered nearly identical prices.

Later I learned that the drivers worked as a team and always called each other one step ahead of the customers to make sure there was no dumping.

The second story was told by an acquaintance of mine in the Mekong Delta.

This person said that “dumping is an everyday story” at seafood farms that typically sell products to foreign traders.

Trader A met Farmer B to buy seafood. Then A met Farmer C, saying that the price of 25,000 VND per kilo that B was offering was too high and A did not want to buy.

As a result, C lowered the price to 24,000 VND, but A still refused and met with other farmers until the price fell to just 18,000 VND per kilo, which means that the farmers made no profit.

Going back to the story of low paid workers, I see that most companies have their own pay increase policies every year with an annual pay increase rate, but they never release those numbers. For inflation, however, there is no policy.

In most cases, workers do not know about wage policies and how their wages would be increased each year.

Once they’ve signed a contract, they can’t complain if the payment is too low or they aren’t offered raises.

When commodity prices rise and wages cannot cover basic needs, workers should have the right to demand that companies raise their wages. It is a legitimate right.

The market determines the price of labor and workers will have to create the main impact on the formation of their minimum wage. That’s my point.

When most workers unite and only agree to work in an industry with a minimum wage of VND 10 million per month, then the labor market in that industry should pay them accordingly.

On the contrary, if a majority of workers accept an industry wage of only 4 million VND per month, the market will develop in the same direction.

In fact, the two stories I discuss above show that if workers stick together and have an impact on the market, they can be the ones to set the price of their labor power. This is how the market economy works.

Before deciding to sign a contract, workers should establish a salary range that they feel comfortable negotiating with their employers. If many workers have the same determination, the minimum wage will be set by themselves.

On the other hand, if workers are too in need of a job or too afraid to let others pass and choose to sign a contract even knowing that wages are low, it would be very difficult for them to ask for a raise in the future.

It is not entirely correct to say that foreign companies invest in Vietnam only because of the cheap labor cost.

Working with staff from other Southeast Asian countries, I have found that Vietnamese workers work faster and smarter. I believe that foreign companies invest in Vietnam because Vietnamese workers have good qualities.

In conclusion, unity is strength, like the drivers in the first story who had reached a consensus on the price, so that no one could force them to reduce the price. In such cases, the role of trade unions will be very important.

Editor’s Note: According to the Center for Employment Relations Research, since 1995, 96% of workers’ strikes to demand wage increases have been successful, with employers having to accept one or another part of all demands made by the workers.

William M. Mayer