International Workshop on Informal Workers in Vietnam

March 11, 2019 - March 13, 2019


Over three-quarters (76%) of all Vietnamese workers are employed in the informal economy. Informal employment in sectors like construction, domestic work, home-based production, street vending and waste recycling represent essential opportunities for urban workers, especially rural-urban migrants, to gain income and raise household living standards. However, evidence shows that the workers in these essential occupations tend to be underpaid, overworked and to be isolated and stigmatized—even criminalized.

The first-ever international workshop on informal workers in Vietnam, co-organized by the Network of Action for Migrant Workers (M-Net), Oxfam Vietnam and WIEGO, was held in Hanoi, Vietnam from 11 to 13 March 2019.

M-Net is a formidable alliance of Vietnamese NGOs work to support migrant workers groups to negotiate their economic rights and to gain equal access to social protection. The participants in the workshop included Vietnamese migrant worker leaders from four sectors—domestic workers, waste pickers, street vendors, and home-based workers and representatives from the International Domestic Workers’ Federation, HomeNet Southeast Asia and HomeNet Thailand, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and StreetNet International.

The first two days of the workshop featured learning exchanges between the Vietnamese informal worker leaders and the regional organizational leaders: with the Vietnamese informal worker leaders sharing the nature and context of their work between and the international participants offering their global perspective on worker movements in these key occupational sectors.

WIEGO Network affiliates learned about the unique challenges facing Vietnamese workers due to their migration status. Benefits like health insurance and other forms of social insurance and assistance are linked to place of residence, such that migrants struggle to access care outside of their home provinces. City landlords tend to extract higher fees for basic services like electricity and water than are paid by local residents. National policies aimed at lifting households out of poverty provide little support for informal workers, whose incomes are often too high to qualify despite their increased expenses and risks. Although Vietnam has a voluntary social insurance scheme aimed at informal workers, contribution premiums are too high, benefits too limited, and subsidies too low to attract them.

In terms of sector-specific challenges, the issues facing Vietnamese workers echo those faced by informal workers around the world. Domestic workers want the government to better enforce existing legal protections (for instance, minimum wage, minimum rest, and prevention of abuse), and to align these protections with the standards of ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Home-based workers want support to develop their businesses and livelihoods, including through improving home production facilities. Street vendors seek a secure place to vend in central locations as well as freedom from police fines, confiscations, and harassment. Waste pickers seek recognition from local authorities, a right to negotiate for tenders and contracts from the local administration, and freedom to define standards for equipment and vehicles. Across the board, all informal workers aim to build democratic organizations and to be represented in the design and implementation of policies that concern them.

After two days of learning exchanges, M-Net and Oxfam Vietnam hosted a public event on 13 March with government, international agencies, and non-governmental organizations to share local and global knowledge on informal employment. Panels focused on formalization of the informal economy, as defined by ILO Recommendation 204, WIEGO’s own Network Platform, and the Vietnamese Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLISA); and on Social Protection for informal and migrant workers. International speakers shared experiences of how waste pickers in Pune, India gained access to public contracts and benefits through their work (through KKPKP and SWaCH in Pune, India) and how informal workers in Thailand gained access to Thailand’s universal health coverage system (through HomeNet Thailand).

The workshop concluded with informal worker leaders sharing recommendations developed over the proceeding two days, in collaboration with the WIEGO Network. These focused on expanding access to social protection, labor code revisions to improve legal protections, improvements in communications and knowledge sharing for informal workers, skills training, and clear regulations related to family violence and sexual harassment for domestic workers. Worker leaders emphasized the need for ongoing support from NGOs—including via international partners and learning exchanges—and their own commitments to take part in implementation of laws, developing networks, and building organizations of informal workers.

This workshop was made possible by the generous support of Oxfam Hong Kong and facilitation of Oxfam Vietnam.

Host Organisations

Center for Gender, Family and Community Development (GFCD)

Center for Gender, Family and Community Development (GFCD): GFCD is a national NGO working on gender equality and labour rights, especially the rights of women and domestic workers. GFCD’s mission is to promote gender equality and protection of women’s legal rights and benefits; to contribute to development of prosperous, equal and happy families for a just, democratic and civilized society; to act as a bridge between community, scientists and policy makers; and to reflect peoples’ voices in the policy making process though a participatory approach. Its areas of activities include research and projects/programmes implementation, evidence-based policy advocacy, women economic empowerment, and communications.

Network of Action for Migrant Workers (M-Net)

Network of Action for Migrant Workers (M-Net) is a network of Vietnamese CSOs promoting participation, equality, rights, and equal access to social protection for migrant workers. M-Net operates through evidence-based policy advocacy, capacity building for member organizations, partners, and target groups, multi-stakeholder coordination and collaboration, and direct intervention through pilot models of social institutions working for and by migrant workers.

Oxfam in Vietnam

Oxfam in Vietnam: Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilizes the strength and voice of people against poverty, inequality and injustice. Oxfam is a confederation of 20 Oxfam organisations working together in more than 90 countries. It works with partner organisations and alongside vulnerable women and men to end injustices. Oxfam in Vietnam is working to seek transformative changes in policies, practices and beliefs in ways that will fundamentally improve the lives of poor and marginalized women and men and ensure that all citizens have the same opportunity to enjoy their rights.

More information

Read Biographies of Attendees from the WIEGO Network

Additional Information on Informal Employment in Vietnam

Read GSO and ILO (2016) 2016 Report on Informal Employment in Vietnam

M-Net (2018) Report on the Contributions of Internal Migrant Workers to Socio-Economic Development In Vietnam

Do Thi Kim Cuc. Overview: Informal Workers in Vietnam