Community legal aid: worker access to labour rights in innovative way
"I didn’t know anything about the labor laws. On my contract most of articles were written as "according to the current regulations and laws" without giving any explanation. I was very confused and worried because I didn’t understand” says Nguyen Thi Vui.
Vui and her husband Cuong live in Huong Mai in Bac Giang Province. Due to poor health, Cuong stays at home and does housework while his wife works at a local electronic firm in Dinh Tram Industrial Zone. Vui is the main breadwinner for their family of four. As with other workers at the company, she has little idea about the labor laws that cover working hours, social insurance, salary increments, compensation and other benefits and rights.
- There are more than 300 workers at our company and about 200 of them don’t understand anything about the laws.
- The project started with only five households but already it’s spill-over effect is very strong. From the first five households, each of the family members is sharing legal knowledge with another ten people . From those ten people even more will come to know.
- This is an innovative approach which starts from the root of the problem, and is conducted in a very natural way, in spite of the current administrative model of the government.
Lacking information on the labor laws puts the workers in a very vulnerable position in negotiating contracts because they are simply unaware of their rights. Few dare to raise their voice, or question their employers.
To help bridge the gap, UNDP Viet Nam has launched an innovative new legal education project with the Foreign Trade University in Ha Noi. By bringing together law students with local laborers it is also helping to make law school much more interesting by giving them some real life experience, at the same time as helping rural workers better understand their rights.
Twelve Foreign Trade University law students and their professors recently spent a weekend in Bac Giang Province to spend a weekend living with families and listening to their legal concerns. At the same time they got to experience rural laborer’s everyday lives. A follow-up workshop with faculty and private lawyers helped the students identify the most pressing legal issues and ways that they could respond.
"The results of the students’ interviews are good. They collected basic information and identified detailed legal needs by asking specific questions on social insurance, overtime and maternity leave” said lawyer Nguyen Thi Hai Yen from Hoang Minh Law.
Last weekend the students returned to help answer the legal issues of the laborers and families with whom they stayed. "The students' feedback meets more than 80% of my questions and concerns. Now I can understand basic labour law” said Vui, enthusiastically. "There are more than 300 workers at our company and about 200 of them don’t understand anything about the laws. I will go to the company and advise them if they have the same concerns as me. I think that most of them will have similar legal problems", she continued.
Not only bringing benefits to the local communities, this innovative project is helping students practice their skills to become good lawyers. "I’m learning what I haven’t been taught in law school. Although the issues are related to the labor and marriage laws, there are other things that I’ve only learned by working with the community" explained Nguyen Huy Hoang, a third year law student at FTU.
"The project started with only five households but already it’s spill-over effect is very strong. From the first five households, each of the family members is sharing legal knowledge with another ten people . From those ten people even more will come to know”, said Ha Cong Anh Bao, Deputy Dean from the FTU law faculty.
"This model is great. This is an innovative approach which starts from the root of the problem, and is conducted in a very natural way, in spite of the current administrative model of the government. The students stayed with the local communities to identify their legal concerns and to practice counseling in helping the laborers understand the laws. The findings are much more comprehensive than when workers come to meet judicial officers for legal aid,” Nguyen Thi Hai Yen added.
The project is also giving the students a chance to interact with their future clients. "I really appreciate this initiative. It is very new in Viet Nam but it helps legal students gain practical experience. More importantly, besides improving their skills, it is a really good channel for laborers to access legal knowledge that we have not been able to give them,” explained Lawyer Vo Si Manh from Law Company Number 5.