Posted by: BPSOS | July 15, 2008

In the News: Vietnam’s New Fund for Guest Workers Shows Gov’t Playing Defense

Officials of Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry present details of new fund to support Vietnamese who are working abroad

July 15, 2008: In a sign that international support for the rights of Vietnamese guest workers is having an impact, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry on July 11 held a press conference to announce the establishment of a $1.2 million fund to support the country’s workers overseas.

As reported on the website Vietnam.net, the fund was set up because the number of Vietnamese working abroad is increasing daily, creating a corresponding rise in the risks these workers face. The labor troubles in Jordan, the war in Lebanon, the plight of illegal fishermen, and the cases of Vietnamese brides taken overseas are all mentioned as examples.

The first case in particular has seen extensive attention worldwide, both in the media and the halls of Congress and the State Department, as a result of Boat People SOS’ advocacy. BPSOS has investigations into other matters brought up by the ministry, as well as its work to spotlight labor issues in Malaysia (Polar Twin Advance and Esquel). It is not unreasonable to conclude that this advocacy, coupled with the hard work of people on the ground and the backing of other NGOs and international labor activists, has helped drive the ministry into creating this fund.

On a slightly worrisome note, Foreign Minister Dao Viet Trung took the occasion to confirm that the fund will not be involved in “protecting” Vietnamese guest workers. According to Dao, that role is already being fulfilled, and the fund was created to help diplomatic offices overseas take a more proactive, supportive, and timely role in cases where workers need protection. As BPSOS and other investigators have found, Vietnamese diplomatic support for guest workers in the Jordan case was thin to nonexistent, at times even negative, so this latest development could hardly hurt.

Dao observed that each case is different, and that only in special cases where workers were not fully compensated, the fund would step in. Even in that event, the workers would have to be prepared to repay the fund once the case had been fully resolved, raising the possibility of abuse within that system.

The ministry called on society and businesses to contribute to the fund’s smooth functioning.

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