Workers’ Rights

An ever growing number of Vietnamese men and women migrate from rural areas to cities in the hope of a better life. One estimate by the General Statistics Office suggests that by 2019, up to five million people could be migrants, about half of them women.

Many migrants end up working in industrial zones. While factory workers are usually paid slightly more than the minimum wage, this is often not enough to cover all their expenses, and many therefore need to work substantially overtime. A number of migrant factory workers are employed on short-term labour contracts and as a result are not part of social protection schemes.

About 79 percent of Vietnam’s labour force, including a large number of migrants, is employed in the informal economy. This includes self-employed workers, unpaid domestic workers, workers in informal enterprises, and informal workers in formal settings, such as short-term factory workers. The women and men working in the informal economy have no or very little legal protection. They are not able to negotiate collectively for better pay and lack access to social protection measures that would help them if they became unemployed, sick or when they grow old. For example, only 23 percent of informal migrant workers have health insurance, and none benefit from social insurance.

Both migrant and informal workers often face poor working and living conditions, with low and insecure incomes, long working hours and precarious employment. In addition, many migrants and informal workers are not able to access social services such as health care and education. This is particularly a problem for migrants who are not registered as permanent residents in the place they reside, and are therefore not entitled to public services where they currently live.

Strengthening organisations and improving social protection policies

Oxfam is helping to make sure that migrant and informal workers in Vietnam, particularly women, are able to defend their rights and have improved access to social protection. This includes a regional programme covering Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and several smaller national projects.

All of these initiatives aim to achieve three overall objectives. The first is to strengthen the number of existing migrant and informal worker organisations and the capacity of these organisations to represent workers, particularly in discussions on social protection.

Another important objective is to support civil society and other stakeholders working on migrant worker rights to become more efficient and better at collaborating. Oxfam convenes and brokers linkages among local NGOs, mass organisations, think tanks, research institutes, development actors and government bodies, such as the Department of Social Insurance under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Finally, social protection policies on occupational health and safety, social insurance, health insurance and basic social services (like education and health care) need to be improved, and enforcement of them strengthened, to better cover migrant and informal workers. As part of this, civil society needs to be able to play a stronger role in the policy-making process and to better monitor the implementation of social protection policies.

A regional and national focus

Oxfam in Vietnam is part of a three-year multi-country programme that works with regional and global NGOs and organisations of marginalised workers, especially women and migrants, to help them more effectively advocate for better social protection, both nationally and within ASEAN.

In Vietnam, Oxfam works with several national NGOs to organise migrant and informal workers and advocate for their access to social protection. While these organisations have experience of helping migrants to organise themselves, their voice in the social protection policy-making process has so far been limited, and Oxfam is helping them to increase this role. Oxfam and NGO partners have, for example, provided input to a number of laws and policies that affect migrant and informal workers, including the Law on Occupational Safety and Health and the policy on universalisation of health insurance. Several policy dialogues have also been held in which workers have the opportunity to voice their concerns directly.

Our Vietnamese NGO partners include CDI[1] and SDRC[2], who support migrant workers employed in industrial zones in and around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, respectively. Oxfam also works with LIGHT[3], which assists vulnerable workers such as street vendors and garbage collectors; PLD[4], which works with informal construction workers; and GFCD[5], which supports domestic workers.



Regional programme:  Marginalised workers in the ASEAN region have increased bargaining power to claim social protection and social justice

Location: Hanoi, HCMC and Hai Duong

Time frame: 2014-2017

Funding: Belgium Directorate-General for Development Cooperation.


[1] Centre for Development Integration

[2] Social Development Research and Consultancy

[3] Institute for Development and Community Health

[4] Institute for Policy, Law, and Development

[5] Research Centre for Gender, Family, and Community Development