Covid quandary: afraid to work and afraid of not working

By Vien Thong, Tat Dat   July 16, 2021 | 10:59 am GMT+7
Covid quandary: afraid to work and afraid of not working
Workers make footwear products in Pouyuen factory in Ho Chi Minh City in June 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.
HCMC workers are caught between a rock and a hard place as Covid-19 disrupts factories and supply chains – scared of the virus and the financial strains of not working.

Van in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Tan District saw her income fall 25 percent to VND3.5 million ($152) last month, which has put a strain on her and her husband as their income is barely enough to make ends meet.

"These days both of us just stay at home and eat cheap meals just to get through the day," said the 35-year-old worker of a cosmetics factory. Her husband, unlike her, does not receive any support from his company despite being temporarily laid off.

They have sent their children to Van’s parents in the countryside to reduce the financial pressure. But Van’s father has recently suffered from a stroke, and she cannot support him due to her reduced pay.

Van is among many workers in HCMC who have seen their income reduced or been laid off in the latest Covid-19 wave that has caused factories to shut down and disrupted the lives of workers who have the added fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Thuy, a worker at Taiwanese footwear maker Pouyuen which manufactures for Nike and Adidas, said that her income has been falling due to fewer number of work days.

In the last two months, her income has dropped by 20 percent to VND8 million due to a low number of orders and no overtime.

The factory which belongs to a company that employs over 56,000 workers has been shut down for 10 days starting Wednesday as it could not arrange for all workers to reside on the premises as required by local authorities to limit contagion.

Thuy expected her income this month to fall over 50 percent or even get no pay at all as she had begun to take a period of 14 days off before the factory shut down for fear of contracting the virus and affecting her child.

In similar difficulties, Loan in District 7 last month saw her income drop by half as the neighborhood where she lived was placed under a 14-day lockdown due to Covid-19 cases.

"After the 14 days, now my company begins another 14-day lockdown," she said, adding that she plans to go back to her hometown after this period.

80,000 formal workers in HCMC had been laid off temporarily without pay by the end of June, and 230,000 informal workers saw their income reduced due to social distancing measures, according to official figures.

The city will support informal workers with VND50,000 per day for 30 days, and formal worker with VND1.8 million a month.

But with over 1.6 million workers in industrial parks and manufacturing zones and over 1,800 of them having contracted the novel coronavirus, there is growing fear in factories.

Ngoc, who works for Pouyuen, will receive support of VND170,000 a day from the company, but income is not the biggest concern for her now.

"My salary has dropped but I felt a burden lifted when the company shut down temporarily. The biggest pressure is not money but the risk of getting Covid-19."

Fear has spread to other localities near HCMC. 33-year-old Thao, who has been working at a curtain manufacturing factory in Binh Duong Province for five years for VND7 million a month, does not want to go to work now for fear of contracting the virus.

"My income has not dropped. But other colleagues and I go to work every day in fear. We just want to be laid off for a while."

Binh Duong, neighboring HCMC, has recorded over 1,800 Covid-19 cases.

Experts anticipate that the number of workers being laid off in HCMC is set to rise as the outbreak continues.

Huynh The Du, lecturer in public policy at the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, said that case studies in other countries have shown that there is no better help for these workers than increasing financial support and pushing vaccination.

It is necessary to protect the income and health of workers to ensure ongoing manufacturing. The economy cannot bear a large-scale suspension in production for months, he said.

Vaccination is the key, other officials have stated.

"There is no route out of this fourth wave without an ambitious and accelerated mass vaccination program which will enable normal life to resume," said EuroCham Chairman Alain Cany, adding that European companies are prepared to cover the cost of protecting their own staff.

Ngo Dang Khoa, head of global markets at HSBC Vietnam, said nationwide vaccination as key to sustainable economic recovery.

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