HCMC businesses suffer as labor shortage drags on

By Diep Phan, Hoang Ha   November 5, 2021 | 12:04 am PT
A month after HCMC lifted Covid-19 restrictions, many businesses still cannot resume normal operations due to a labor shortage as people remain wary of returning.

Pham Minh Hien reopened his restaurant in Go Vap District on Oct. 1, but has to personally make the food in the kitchen.

The 34-year-old says: "Chefs and other employees have all returned to their hometowns. After the city ended the social distancing, I called them but no one intends to return".

Pham Minh Hien packs meals to donate to frontline workers in May.  Photo courtesy of Hien

Pham Minh Hien packs meals to donate to frontline workers in May, 2021. Photo courtesy of Hien

He had to hire six new employees with higher salaries and also foot the bill for them to stay at the restaurant. Every five days, he spends another VND2 million ($87.79) to test them for Covid.

Hien is among many HCMC businesspeople who are facing a huge labor shortage.

Dao An, 30, has finished remodeling his coffee shop in District 3, but still cannot even sell takeaway.

"I lack bartenders and servers," he says.

He used to run a coffee shop in Hanoi, and so has a lot of experience in recruiting staff, but at the moment he cannot even find applicants.

"I don't know where all the prospective employees went but no one has contacted me or replied to my job post yet".

HCMC has recorded nearly 436,000 cases since the fourth wave of Covid hit Vietnam in late April, forcing tens of thousands of food establishments to stop indoor dining from May 27.

As revenues collapsed, many food and beverage establishments had to close down and terminate their rental contract or downsize.

The months-long lockdown also caused millions of migrant workers to decide to return home.

The General Statistics Office of Vietnam said around 1.3 million workers had returned to their hometowns between July and Sept. 15 due to the pandemic.

Of them, 324,000 were in Hanoi, 292,000 in HCMC and 450,000 in other southern localities.

Even businesses that need unskilled workers like lottery retail have not resumed normal operations since most street vendors have also returned to their hometowns.

Bich Chi, 40, owner of a lottery ticket retail agency in Thu Duc City, says before the epidemic she had more than a dozen sellers, but since Oct. 22, when she reopened, only two local have come to pick up tickets from her to sell. As a result, for almost a week now Chi has only been selling a few hundred tickets a day to regular customers.

"Most of my sellers have gone back to the countryside, and said they will to return to the city, but after Tet (Lunar New Year)". Tet is on February 1 next year.

Nguyen Van Luc, 57, one of Chi's lottery sellers, returned to the central Phu Yen Province at the end of July and says he has no intention of returning to the city.

"I've only gotten one dose of Covid vaccine, and so I don't dare back. Also, my children urge me not to go back to Saigon".

A man at  Bich Chis lottery tick retail in Thu Duc City. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan

A man stops in front of Bich Chi's lottery ticket retail shop in Thu Duc City. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan

Many households in the city also face difficulties in that they cannot find domestic helpers.

Le Ngoc, 29, of Binh Thanh District, says: "In the past month the thing I have struggled most with is finding someone to help cook and clean because I often come home late from work".

After her former maid returned to her hometown in Long An Province in mid-July Ngoc had to get used to cooking and doing all the household chores herself.

"In the past, a maid would come home at 5 p.m. to cook and clean up. I paid her VND4 million a month".

Ngoc said the help intended to return to HCMC but was stopped by her children who feared a possible Covid resurgence.

Nguyen Van Lam, deputy director of the city Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the city needs 60,000 workers this year.

The city government and businesses are implementing many support policies for returning workers, he said.

Nguyen Quang Cuong, director of the HCMC Youth Employment Service Center, said workers who have difficulty finding accommodation will be introduced to boarding houses in 21 districts and Thu Duc City, where they can stay for free for at least one month.

The center will also arrange for a free rapid Covid test if an employer requires one from a worker on the day of interview or joining.

According to the center, businesses need to hire more than 50,000 workers and so unemployed people will be introduced to prospective employers.

For nearly a month, Ngoc has been making job posts in online groups in HCMC.

He has received a few phone calls, but most demand accommodation and a salary of over VND6 million.

An has posted job advertisements in vocational training groups and bartending groups with fewer demands than other coffee shops, but has still yet to get lucky.

"If I find a suitable person who just received one dose of a Covid vaccine, I will take them in right away," he says.

Hien has posted for a chef offering a higher salary than before the pandemic and less working hours for a month now.

"With this shortage of workers and huge costs while revenues are only a third of pre-pandemic levels, I am afraid I will not be able to survive much longer".

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