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Lawmakers air conflicting views on overtime cap
By Van Ly
Wednesday,  Oct 23, 2019,20:18 (GMT+7)

Lawmakers air conflicting views on overtime cap

By Van Ly

Former Chairwoman of the HCMC People’s Council Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam speaks at a session of the legislative National Assembly in Hanoi on October 22 – PHOTO: NA

HANOI – Lawmakers expressed conflicting views on a proposal by the Government involving the maximum number of overtime hours applicable to Vietnamese workers, as part of the draft revised Labor Code, during the ongoing sitting of the National Assembly (NA) in Hanoi today, October 22.

The standard working hours of Vietnamese workers are higher than those in many other countries in the region and the world, according to Deputy Nguyen Thi Xuan from the Central Highlands province of Daklak.

Local workers have a standard workweek of 48 hours, plus the annual maximum overtime of 300 hours. Therefore, their total working hours amount to 2,620 hours per year, higher than that in China at 2,288 hours and in South Korea at 2,246 hours, Xuan said.

She stated that working time reductions have become a general trend in many countries as investment in production methods and the adoption of scientific and technological advances have made it possible to ensure increased labor productivity and to maintain the health of employees.

Employees would then have more time to look after their families and engage in social activities, she noted.

She added that firms could manipulate the overtime increase to force their staff to overwork since inspection, supervision and sanctions remain limited.

Thus, she voiced support for the stance of the NA Standing Committee, which disagreed with the extension of the maximum amount of overtime applicable. Also, tougher sanctions are needed to discipline businesses that violate regulations stipulated in the Labor Code.

President of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vu Tien Loc – PHOTO: NA

Deputy Vu Tien Loc from the northern province of Thai Binh, who serves as president of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the business community, suggested the maximum work hours per week be kept unchanged at 48 hours, which he believed is better aligned with the circumstances of the national economy and is “very humane.”

“The State encourages a smaller workweek of 40-44 hours, depending on the specific conditions of the enterprises and the agreement between the employer and the employee. This sounds reasonable and appropriate,” Loc said.

He, however, stated that shortening the workweek to 44 hours will erode the country’s competitiveness, especially in labor-intensive sectors, and pose an obstacle to the fulfillment of economic growth targets, which make it hard for the country to get out of the middle-income trap.

Citing preliminary calculations, he explained that the reduction of four working hours per week in the industries of fisheries, textiles, garments, footwear, bags, electronics and food and foodstuff could lower the annual export turnover by at least US$20 billion.

He pointed out that foreign direct investment (FDI) firms could shift their production to lower-labor-cost economies. Hence, Vietnam would find it challenging to maintain the growth rate of FDI inflows.

Under the current circumstances, the workweek reduction would not bring any benefits to laborers as enterprises would suffer rising costs, thereby reducing their competitiveness. These businesses may resort to scaling down their production, putting jobs at risk.

He also called for the expansion of the overtime limit in a number of labor-intensive sectors.

Meanwhile, Deputy Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, former chairwoman of the HCMC People’s Council, expressed her strong opposition to Loc’s stance.

A number of workers and labor union officials told Tam that laborers do not want to work overtime. However, they still do so because they barely make ends meet to address their basic needs, according to the lawmaker.

She said that the role of the NA is to make policies that enable workers to earn enough money and have time to study, improve their professional skills, relax, take care of themselves and their families and socialize. “These are human rights stipulated in the Constitution.”

She stressed the competitiveness of the economy should not be primarily reliant on labor productivity. It should also involve management capacity, technological innovation and working conditions.

Deputy Phung Thi Thuong from the northern province of Vinh Phuc echoed a similar view as Tam, saying that the growth burden should not be placed on workers’ shoulders.

She urged the NA and the Government to pay more attention to laborers, especially those placed at a disadvantage, through the adoption of practical policies, such as reducing standard working hours and adding extra days off for them.

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