Meager salaries leave a third of Vietnamese laborers destitute - survey

By Thai Mac   May 29, 2017 | 06:59 pm GMT+7
Meager salaries leave a third of Vietnamese laborers destitute - survey
Workers at a garment factory in Bac Giang Province, near Hanoi. Photo: Reuters

Some workers are forced to take overtime just so they have enough to eat.

A third of Vietnamese laborers working in the business sector said their salaries are only barely enough to cover their basic living needs, according to a survey released last week by Vietnam's Institute of Workers and Trade Unions (IWTU).

The survey on salaries, working hours and occupational health and safety was conducted in March by the IWTU with the participation of nearly 2,600 workers from 14 provinces.

Nearly 33 percent of workers said their incomes were low and barely sufficient to live on, while 12 percent said their wages simply did not cover living expenses, forcing them to work extra hours.

Vu Minh Tien, deputy director of the IWTU, said 36 percent of laborers work overtime just to be able to afford an extra meal, while 49 percent said they didn't want to work extra hours.

"Their salaries are too low. Workers do not have enough money to pay the rent or raise their children, so they have to work overtime just to be able to afford to eat," said Tien.

Mai Duc Chinh, vice chairman of the General Federation of Labor, expressed his concerns about the downsides of working overtime. Chinh said workers may work extra hours to add an extra VND1 million to their basic salaries, which range from VND3.5 to 4 million ($154-176), but this small increase in income could be more costly to their health.

"This is the reason why the federation is against a proposal to double or even triple the overtime limit that has been included in the amendments to the Labor Code," said Chinh.

Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs is proposing an amendment to the Labor Code that would sharply increase the country's overtime limit following recommendations by foreign firms who say that the current limit in Vietnam is too low.

According to current regulations, overtime cannot exceed 30 hours per month or 200 hours per year. In some special cases that limit can be extended to 300 hours per year.

Some Japanese IT firms said the low limit is holding back their development as engineers need to work overtime if any technical problems arise. The South Korean Business Association echoed the same opinion at a conference last year, adding that the overtime rule has raised labor costs and delayed production.

Under the new proposal, an employee would be able to work a maximum of 600 extra hours per year, doubling the overtime limit currently imposed on some specific areas.

In January, Vietnam raised the minimum wage by around 7.3 percent, which is an additional VND180,000 to VND250,000 per month. The new monthly minimum wage now ranges from VND2.58 million to VND3.75 million.

While the Vietnamese government has adjusted the minimum wage almost every year for a decade, it's never enough to catch up with minimum living standards, leaving workers barely hanging on.