In the latest in a rash of labor disputes amid double-digit inflation ahead of the Tet lunar New Year, nearly 10,000 workers went on strike at a Hong Kong-owned Vietnam toy factory, state media said.

The workers at the Keyhinge Toy plant in the central city of Danang walked off the job Jan. 30, demanding higher bonuses and longer holidays for Tet, the country's most important festival next week, one of the workers told AFP. "Many of us live very far away, as far north as Thai Nguyen province," another worker reportedly told the Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper. "With this low bonus and short holiday, we can't even manage to go home for Tet."

The plant run by the Keyhinge Industrial Co. was criticied in the late 1990s by international labor rights activists who charged its factory, then making Disney promotional toys for McDonalds, exploited workers.

The industrial action there this week was one of several strikes in foreign-owned plants in Vietnam, a low-wage economy of 86 million and also a major exporter of textiles, footwear, electronics and food products.

Also on Jan. 30 thousands of laborers downed tools at a Hyundai-Vinashin shipbuilding plant in southern Khanh Hoa provice and a Vietnamese seafood plant in Hau Giang province, the Tien Phong (Pioneer) daily reported. The recent spate of industrial disputes has hit mostly foreign owned factories in the main industrial region around southern Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam on January 1 raised the monthly minimum wage for laborers to 540,000 dong ($34) and at least 800,000 dong for workers in foreign-invested enterprises, the state-run Vietnam News Agency reported. But workers have complained the wage rise has not kept pace with spiralling food, fuel and other consumer prices that have hit the poor the hardest. The government-run General Statistics Office this week estimated that consumer prices rose by over 14% in January from a year earlier.

Vietnam bans labor unions that are independent of the ruling Communist Party, and industrial relations experts say that most workplaces currently lack transparent arbitration mechanisms to settle labor disputes. Last month Vietnam jailed the founders of the banned United Workers-Farmers Organization, which demands the right to form independent labor unions, for "abusing democracy and freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008