Outside APHEDA’s office in Sydney yesterday, about 70 protesters chanted “VGCL, fake union”, and “C’mon, APHEDA!”. Addressed by leaders from TWU, AWU, TCFUA, and Unions NSW, the protesters asked why APHEDA gives moneys to the visiting state-run union VGCL which is very rich and which oppresses workers’ union and collective bargaining rights, knowing that the money’s beneficiaries are Communist Party officials and not workers.
VGCL (Vietnam General Confederation of Labor) is a special branch of the ruling Communist Party tasked with crushing workers’ union and collective bargaining rights. Its website and Wikipedia entry openly says it exists to serve the Communist Party. VGCL works with the police to hunt down and jail strike leaders, and last year killed a National Assembly proposal allowing workers to form unions.
Thousands of VGCL officials are on employers’ payrolls, and VGCL itself annually receives in the order of 250 million dollars from workers’ pay packets or in their names – see Notes (*) below.
APHEDA runs courses and seminars, using moneys raised from unions and unionists. It runs theses for Communist Party officials only, because workers are not allowed to elect representatives to attend, including courses on union skills. While turning a blind eye to this, APHEDA also repeats the Communist Party’s line that jailed strike leaders are thugs, not unionists.
Despite the protesters’ repeated calls of “C’mon, APHEDA!”, its chief Peter Jennings was silent. We believe that the venue for him to entertain VGCL officials had been moved elsewhere.
The AWU’s Paul Howes told the crowd: “AWU stands with unions here today, TCFUA and TWU, in opposing the giving of assistance to yellow unions like VGCL. We are well aware that VGCL works with the Vietnamese regime to crush workers’ rights” (Update 19/8/2012: Click here for SBS Radio’s 03rd August 2012 interview with Paul Howes. The audio of this 4-minute story is mainly in Vietnamese).
TWU’s Tony Sheldon was interstate, but through his Chief of Staff Dermot Ryan told those present that he’d met the visiting VGCL leaders in Melbourne and “impressed upon them the TWU’s solidarity with Vietnamese workers”. TWU’s Media Release also expressed disappointment that VGCL does nothing about forced labor camps disguised as drug rehab centres where about 40,000 inmates are physically beaten into doing forced labor to profit state-run entities.
Mr. Barry Tubner, Secretary of TCFUA in NSW, told the protesters “APHEDA does some good work elsewhere, but you are right to criticise its collaboration with Vietnam’s anti-workers organisation”.
Mr. Chris Christodoulou, Unions NSW’s Assistant Secretary, said it is wrong to jail people who advocate for a decent pay.
(Several unions around the world are concerned about their imprisonment. In Australia, they include: AMWU, AWU, TCFUA, and TWU. Overseas, the International Transport workers Federation (ITF) has protested, the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) has sent a representative to visit their families, and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has condemned their oppressors in its annual reports on violations of trade unions’ rights.)
Mr. Tony Woolgar, a former TCFUA National Secretary, called for their release, and expressed concerns that not only workers inside Vietnam but those sent overseas are unable to fight exploitation by multinationals. VGCL not only does not protect them but also allows state-run job placement agencies to forbid them from joining overseas unions or taking industrial actions.
In 2008, TCFUA helped CPVW to work with Australian TV Channel Seven to expose people trafficking involving Vietnamese and other migrant workers in Nike’s contract factories in Malaysia. Thus, 8,500 took back their confiscated passports and got paid back about 21 millions dollars.
The VGCL visit was not generally publicised, therefore we had only a few days to put together the protest. The 70 protesters, mainly Vietnamese Australians, joined by some union members, numbered fewer than many other protests where hundreds, often thousands of Vietnamese Australians, speak up about various rights abuses by Vietnam’s unelected rulers.
•Statistics vary, but FDI enterprises employ in the order of 3 million workers. We take the average monthly pay as $200, that’s $600M p.m. FDI firms are required to pay 2% of this to VGCL, this amounts to $12M p.m., or about $140M p.a. VGCL also claims that its number about 47% of all workers. We conservatively assume that this is an exaggeration and only 10 million workers have VGCL fees deducted. At $1 p.m. (about 15-20 thousand VND), this means another $120M p.a.. The total is therefore in the order of $250M.
•Some workers also believe that bosses pay protection money to VGCL, but no-one knows how much. Journalists who unearthed corruption have all been jailed, and courts’ judges are Party officials.