Vietnam has been in transition from a command economy to a market economy since the late 1980s but the socialist industrial relations institutions remained largely unchanged until 2005 when workers in the most internationally exposed provinces began to agitate for improved wages and conditions, without the support of the formal trade unions. Labour activism resulted from substantial changes in labour relations at firm level and, at the same time, created pressures on the existing national IR settings for reform. Seeking to understand these momentous events in Vietnam has required a multi-dimensional approach to examining not only the roles of industrial relations actors in this process of change but also how they reacted to each other at different levels in shaping their strategies and influencing the process of transformation of industrial relations in Vietnam.
In order to understand the relationship between the changes in labour-management relations at firm level and the IR institutional reform at the national level, a multi-dimensional approach has required analysis at three levels: firm, regional and national. The research utilised a multi-case method including a foreign-owned electronics firm and a state-owned garment firm in Hanoi. These two firms were selected because they revealed similarities in industrial relations changes, but there were also crucial differences which could be understood when located within wider analysis of the two globalising provinces, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. This process enabled the thesis to compare the provincial governments’ responses to firm-level labour relations changes and their various levels of influence on the national institutional reform. At the national level, the revisions of the Labour Code and related industrial relations institutions in 2006 and 2009 were examined within the overall political economy context of Vietnam. Hence, the research analysed the forces underlying the recent industrial relations reforms.
The thesis concluded that the adaptation of industrial relations approaches by management and labour at the micro-level was not dependent on institutional changes. Rather, the on-going process of gradual IR transformation has been the outcome of interactions and negotiations between the micro-level and the macro-agencies with the meso-actor. In the case of Vietnam, although labour activism at the firm level has become the most important driving force for reforming national institutional settings, the provincial governments have also played a crucial role in mediating the changes in employment relations at workplace and have influenced the national policy-making process.