Last November, the Vietnamese National Assembly took a long-awaited decision on a demand that came from both inside and outside the country: to authorise independent trade unions from 2021. The measure, included in a reform of the labour code, was accompanied by two others that might have been fought against by (independent) unions had they already been allowed to exist: the retirement age will gradually increase to 62 for men and 60 for women (currently 60 and 58 years, respectively) to counteract the ageing of the population; and the working week will stay fixed at 48 hours, although some political leaders are calling for it to be reduced to 40.

While it remains to be seen how it will be implemented, freedom of association is a major milestone in a society where the Communist Party, in power since 1975, stifles any attempt at civil association, while freedom of expression is increasingly restricted. Trade unions already exist in Vietnam, but they all are under the umbrella of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), a body linked to the Communist Party and therefore disinclined to support actions that upset the government.