Cablegate: Gvn Reacts to Labor Cases in Jordan, Malaysia

DE RUEHHI #0309/01 0770434
R 170434Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A


REFS: A) HANOI 0246; B) HANOI 0247; C) HANOI 0249

HANOI 00000309 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) Summary: The GVN is reacting to two recent high-profile
labor cases, one involving 176 female garment workers on strike in
Jordan and one regarding Vietnamese worker deaths in Malaysia. On
March 13, Dao Cong Hai, Deputy Director General, Department of
Overseas Labor of the GVN Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social
Affairs (MOLISA) gave Poloff updates on these cases. A GVN
inter-ministerial delegation is in Jordan working with Jordanian
labor officials as well as the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) and International Labor Organization (ILO) to
resolve this issue. According to MOLISA, the GVN will assist any
overseas Vietnamese worker who wishes to return to Vietnam. GVN
officials report that, while in general workers who break the terms
of their contracts could face financial penalties, in this case it
was the owner of the factory who broke the terms of the contract so
the workers should not face any penalties. In response to the
reports of a number of worker deaths in Malaysia, GVN Deputy Prime
Minister Truong Vinh Trong on March 10 instructed MOLISA, MFA and
the Ministry of Public Health (MPH) to launch an immediate joint
effort together with the Vietnamese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to
address the issue and report to the government on the reasons behind
the deaths as soon as possible. Malaysia is the largest destination
country for overseas Vietnamese workers, with over 120,000 working
primarily in construction, manufacturing and textiles. Though the
GVN understands the issue of labor trafficking and has taken good
steps to rein in labor recruitment firms, concerns remain about
worker protections. End summary.


2. (SBU) Vietnamese export labor is increasing steadily in the
Middle East, with between 400 - 500 overseas guest workers in Jordan
itself, mostly in the textile industry. The GVN has export labor
MOUs with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman; Bahrain is pending. The GVN
has no export labor MOU with Jordan, which is a new market for
Vietnam; the first Vietnamese workers there had arrived only five
months ago, and a new group came out in the New Year, according to


3. (SBU) In late February, 176 female Vietnamese garment workers
went on strike in Jordan over wages and work conditions. According
to news reports on February 19, the strike turned violent as rival
groups of Vietnamese workers allegedly attacked each other and then
fought with Jordanian police. Several workers and police were
injured. The workers alleged that the employer, W&D Apparel
Company, violated the terms of their contracts, paying them less
than stipulated and requiring them to work significant overtime.
The GVN has no Embassy in Jordan, but it dispatched regional MFA and
MOLISA representatives to meet with the workers and collaborate with
Jordanian officials to resolve the crisis. MOLISA also requested
the two Vietnamese labor recruitment firms, Footwear Joint Stock
Company and Vietnam Coal Joint Stock Company, to send "crisis teams"
to Jordan.

4. (SBU) In a March 13 meeting with Poloff, Dao Cong Hai, MOLISA's
Deputy Director General, Department of Overseas Labor told Poloff
that the situation in Jordan was not yet resolved but that
negotiations to resolve the crisis were ongoing, and a
newly-established salary plan for the workers held hope. According
to Hai, MOLISA and MFA delegations are in Jordan working with
Jordanian labor officials as well as IOM and ILO. The owner of the
employing firm is Taiwanese, Hai said, and both Vietnamese labor
recruitment firms involved in the case have valid licenses from
MOLISA. However, Hai said, there was a dispute on how salary
payments were stipulated in the contracts and then actually paid,
which triggered this particular crisis.

5. (SBU) According to Hai, the employer in Jordan noted that the
workers' skill levels varied tremendously and so he arbitrarily went
to a quota-based system, relating salary directly to productivity.
This angered a number of the workers and many went on strike,
resulting in an eventual scuffle between rival Vietnamese worker
groups and then with Jordanian police. After initial negotiations
with the employer and an agreement to raise salaries, some of the
workers went back to work, but Hai said a core group of holdouts was
"forcing" the majority to stay on strike.

6. (SBU) Separately, the GVN is quietly telling us that "external
troublemakers" were involved in sparking the work action. After the
conclusion of a separate meeting on other issues on March 14,
Consular Department DG Duong Tri Dung told the DCM that the NGO Boat
People SOS had instigated Vietnamese workers in Jordan to strike by

HANOI 00000309 002.2 OF 003

promising them that the U.S. Embassy in Jordan would admit them for
political asylum if they served as instigators. We understand that
the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington is relating a similar line in
discussions with the Department.


7. (SBU) Hai told Poloff that contract responsibility is complicated
when Vietnamese workers go overseas. There are three main players
and contracts involved: between the worker and the destination
employer, between the worker and the licensed Vietnamese labor
recruitment firm, and between the recruitment firm and the
destination employer. Each party must respect the terms of each
contract they sign. If the worker violates the terms of the
contract, he or she may be financially penalized by the company, and
sometimes MOLISA has to step in to negotiate a financial resolution.
Hai said that in no cases are workers jailed or physically abused
for contract violations. MFA will assist any overseas Vietnamese
worker that wishes to return to Vietnam, Hai said. He added that in
practice, however, workers involved in disputes or other
difficulties are "encouraged" to stay in country and work things out
with the employer.

8. (SBU) Hai explained that it is not uncommon for Vietnamese
workers to become homesick, for example. However, if they break the
terms of their contracts, there are financial damages for the
companies who paid for them to get there. Hai said financial
penalties on workers who abandon their contracts and "break the law"
exist and are sometimes levied. Hai clarified that the employer has
to meet the contract conditions - if it is not, then workers who
abandon their contracts cannot be penalized, although it is best to
try to negotiate and avoid these situations where possible. In
addition, there is a Labor Court in Vietnam where workers may file

--------------------------------------------- --

9. (SBU) The normal practice in Vietnam is for an accompanying
representative of the Vietnamese "sending company" or recruitment
firm to withhold the passports of its contracted workers once they
enter the labor destination country. Poloff was told that this is
done for "security" purposes (so workers do not lose them as they
are not used to holding passports) and also so workers do not
abandon their position to go to another country or employer. Hai
admitted that MOLISA does not have regulations on this. He said
that MOLISA tells the recruiters not to withhold workers' travel
documents, but they usually ask MOLISA for permission to do this and
MOLISA acquiesces.

10. (SBU) Regarding concerns about forced labor and individuals
being forced to remain in a country where they no longer want to
live, Hai said that any worker who does want to return to Vietnam
may do so granted certain conditions are met and, as in the Jordan
case, MFA will assist workers in crises to return to Vietnam. Hai
pointed out that many workers may use an overseas labor contract as
a ruse to immigrate to a third country and this can damage the GVN's
relations with that country and cause problems for the recruitment


11. (SBU) Malaysia is the largest destination country for overseas
Vietnamese workers, with over 120,000 working primarily in
construction, manufacturing and textiles. A February BBC News
article which reported 107 Vietnamese worker deaths in Malaysia last
year and over 300 since 2004 sparked heavy press play in Vietnam and
raised public concerns. In response, on March 10, GVN Deputy Prime
Minister Truong Vinh Trong sent an official letter to MOLISA, MFA
and the Ministry of Public Health (MPH) requesting their immediate
joint efforts to work with the Vietnamese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to
address the Vietnamese worker deaths. The letter also requested a
report to the government on the reasons behind the deaths as soon as

12. (SBU) MOLISA and MPH had sent a delegation to Malaysia in 2004
to explore export labor conditions. Hai said the delegation's
conclusion was that, while conditions of employment were adequate,
workers' living conditions were not. Poor housing, sanitation and
long commutes were common, and employers were asked to improve those
conditions. In addition, as a result of that delegation's report, a
GVN decree on health conditions and screening for overseas workers
was issued.

13. (SBU) Hai said when the GVN looks at its overseas worker health

HANOI 00000309 003.2 OF 003

screening system in comparison to other export labor countries, it
is comparable. Nevertheless, MOLISA and MPH have already agreed on
certain steps to review and improve worker health screening this
year. In addition, Hai said the 107 deaths are not "statistically
significant" given the 120,000 Vietnamese workers in Malaysia and
that the journalist "exaggerated the situation." MOLISA also
compared the statistics with reported worker deaths from other
export labor nations, and found them to be comparable.

14. (SBU) The worker deaths in Malaysia are from multiple causes,
Hai said, including occupational accidents, traffic accidents,
pre-existing medical conditions not picked up on examination (such
as heart defects), the difference in the weather, and heavy drinking
by workers on weekends. Hai said it is not uncommon for Vietnamese
workers to distill their own rice wine, and they are sometimes
inadvertently poisoned. Hai said that in Malaysia workers
compensation insurance is low and it takes a long time for
Vietnamese families to get reimbursed. This had led many Vietnamese
to complain to the government and to the media about work conditions
in Malaysia, in particular.

15. (SBU) Poloff raised the issue of reports of gangs and organized
crime operating in the Vietnamese worker community in Malaysia. Hai
said that these problems do exist, and the GVN Ministry of Public
Security (MPS) is aware of the problem and working with its
counterparts in Malaysia to combat it. He noted that one of the
problems is that Vietnam and Malaysia have a visa waiver program, so
criminals can easily travel to Malaysia and attempt to extort money
from workers there.

--------------------------------------------- -------

16. (SBU) As part of its economic development drive, Vietnam is
hoping to ramp up export labor from 75,000 workers leaving each year
to go abroad in 2007 to 110,000 by 2010. These two labor cases and
the GVN's reaction to them show the GVN's heightened sensitivity to
its international image, as well as its need to address public
concerns. While the GVN's quick response to address these
situations is positive, the regular withholding of workers' travel
documents remains a significant concern. Vietnam has cooperated
effectively with the international community to address sex- and
foreign bride-related trafficking in persons, but it still has a
long way to go in building up a legal system where all workers are
protected and have well-understood and protected rights to petition.
The domestic news focus on these issues is a very positive
development. In the case of worker deaths in Malaysia, we expect it
to drive further improvements.


© Scoop Media

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