Vietnam is becoming increasingly industrialised in its growing economy, and this is opening up many opportunities for the country, promoting development of the private sector, and increasing investment in industrial parks. In Vinh Phuc province in northern Vietnam, 12 industrial zones are operating with more than 82,000 workers. 70% of these are women, and 53% of them are migrants.
The growing number of women joining the workforce comes with its own challenges. Women workers are facing difficult situations while trying to earn wages to support their families. Their voices are valued less than those of their male counterparts due to cultural practices. Accommodation is also a problem, because of limited space, water supply, etc. As migrants, they are excluded from social activities/support for women led by local authorities. With some coming from ethnic minority communities, they are viewed as internal migrants with low skills and education.
In response to this, a 9-year project entitled “Strengthening Leadership and Action for Migrant Workers to Improve Their Living and Working Conditions” – or Phu Nu – was launched in 2014. The project was implemented by GRET together with Batik International and provincial counterparts including the Vinh Phuc Labor Union and Women’s Union. The objective is to contribute to improving living and working conditions by enhancing leadership by female workers and multi-stakeholder partnerships in Khai Quang ward, Vinh Yen city, Vinh Phuc province.
Phu Nu 1 (2014-2017) created a new and helpful platform for migrant workers living in Vinh Thinh Dong quarter, Khai Quang ward, Vinh Yen city. With the establishment of 15 clubs and nomination of 30 club leaders, 800 migrant workers were informed about their rights and policies and they were able to express themselves via club meetings, training, sharing sessions, and social events. Phu Nu 2 (2018-2021) helped to organize dialogue between migrant workers, their boarding house owners, and relevant agencies, so that migrants’ concerns could be raised and addressed. As a result, their accommodation has been improved (bathrooms upgraded, electricity price stabilised) and some factory facilities such as kitchens, restrooms and breastfeeding rooms have been renovated.
Financially supported by Agence Française de Développement, Weave Our Future Foundation and Abbé Pierre Foundation, Phu Nu 3 (2022-2023) succeeded in extending achievements from phases 1 and 2. It reached not only migrants from 15 clubs, but also thousands of migrant workers living in Khai Quang ward, and those working in industrial zones across the province. To strengthen women workers’ leadership and action, the project conducted multiple training sessions, workshops, and club meetings for more than 2,000 participants, 59% of whom where women. The objective was to enhance their knowledge and capacities, with an emphasis on the revised Labour Law of 2019, social insurance related policies, and gender-based violence. For the first time, a series of training sessions was held on dialogue at work and sexual harassment at work for both managers and workers in industrial parks. In addition, Phu Nu 3 achieved remarkable progress on capacity-building: core members of the women leaders’ network brainstormed ideas for their agenda, and organised regular club meetings, sharing sessions, and team-building events.
In this context, enabling workers to have access to information is crucial. Phu Nu 3 also provided access to essential information for female workers to protect their rights via a number of sustainable and diverse channels. A web-based database is hosted on the Labor Union’s website which contains legal documents on workers‘ rights and policies, including the Labour Law of 2019, Social Insurance Law of 2014, and other related decisions of the provincial government. The project also promoted awareness online with various communication products such as video clips, posters, mini-games and banners about existing resources, soft skills, legal regulations, and particularly the legal support available on the Labor Union’s website and Facebook page. 1,000 notebooks on specific policies for female workers were produced and distributed to the latter.
Toward the end of the project, good practices and lessons learnt from the initiatives were shared as recommendations to NGOs and donors to raise awareness on the conditions of women migrant workers. Some content was also further integrated in written documents and submitted to decision-makers for advocacy purposes, to contribute to the review of the institutional and existing legal frameworks related to women workers.
Nguyen Thi Thuy, a 39-year-old woman migrant worker at Khai Quang Industrial Park, commented on her transformation and hope after engaging with the project as a club leader: “In addition to knowledge about rights and soft skills for workers, given flexible training, the project helped me overcome my shyness to speak up, give a good presentation, and run club meetings. We will share the useful knowledge and skills provided by the project with our colleagues and friends. Hopefully there will be similar interventions to improve the quality of life of migrant workers in particular and workers in general in Vinh Phuc province.”
See the recap video