Middle-aged laid-off workers back home or in 'constant migration'

By Kim Ngan, Nguyen Hang   September 19, 2023 | 04:14 pm PT
Many middle-aged laid-off city factory workers have settled back into their hometowns, while others have migrated back to urban areas after finding it hard to make ends meet back home.
Workers at a textile factory. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Workers at a textile factory. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Thanh Huong, 35, from the Mekong Delta province of Long An, moved to HCMC with her husband more than 10 years ago and had been working for a factory there ever since. But then she was laid off in May this year. She decided to withdraw her 50-million-dong ($2,100) social insurance allowance and return to her hometown.

"Life is hard for a factory worker," she says. "I wanted to apply to corporate institutions, but age is my disadvantage."

So, she switched careers in another direction. The middle-aged woman has spent part of her social insurance allowance on a vocational course in spa treatment and is currently working at a spa establishment to gain experience in the field.

She is making some VND3 million at the moment, not even half of her wage when she was a factory worker. Combined with her husband’s six-million-dong monthly income, the amount is just enough for her family to get by.

But Huong considers herself fortunate enough to not have to borrow money from her acquaintances to cover her family’s living expenses.

"The cost of living is lower here compared to HCMC," she explains.

Huu Tin, 41, from the southeastern province of Tay Ninh, also returned home after losing his job as a textile factory worker in HCMC. He had the job for a decade. He says his life has been easier since coming back.

"Renting a small room in HCMC costs people between VND1-2 million a month," he says. "Meanwhile, I can have a big room here [in Tay Ninh] with no more than a million dong a month."

He adds that over the last few months he has seen many people relocate to Tay Ninh, which is considered one of southeast Vietnam’s less-developed provinces.

"People used to flock to more developed areas in the past," he says. "But many workers in their 30s have been turning to Tay Ninh recently as a result of the emerging factories here."

According to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam, there were 1.07 million unemployed people of working age in Vietnam in the second quarter of 2023. The regions of Mekong Delta and the Southeast have the highest unemployment rates, partly because of the layoff wave across manufacturing factories in these regions.

Consequently, many workers in major industrial areas in southern Vietnam began planning to return to their hometowns to find permanent jobs.

A study published by the Social Life Research Institute in April this year pointed out that 15.5% of its respondents in HCMC and southern Dong Nai and Binh Duong provinces reported that they had such plans.

Deputy director Pham Van Tuyen of the Binh Duong Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs confirms that there is indeed an internal migration trend in which highly-skilled workers have been moving back from metropolitan areas to rural regions.

However, not everyone is as fortunate as Huong and Tin.

According to Huong, returning to their hometowns and looking for new career opportunities is only an effective solution for those who have either some savings or resources.

"Those who are of older ages and have no real estate properties, for example, find it hard to survive after coming back," she says. "There are undeniably more career chances in metropolitan areas."

She adds that a few of her acquaintances tried returning to their hometowns after being laid off but had to move again to other more developed places to work as ragpickers or lottery ticket sellers to get by while looking for other work.

Yet, their current lives are far from prosperous, a result of their decreased incomes and the high costs of living in the developed areas.

These people make up a new phenomenon called "constant migration," according to Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, founder of the Social Life Research Institute.

"They constantly move between places to take advantage of the seasonal job opportunities in different places," he says.

"For example, they can stay in [the southern province of] Binh Phuoc in the first half of the year to work as cashew pickers, then move to the Central Highlands region to help local farms collect coffee beans in the second half."

The trend is especially common among workers of older ages, who cannot compete with their younger counterparts for career opportunities, according to Loc.

He also claims that it will not disappear soon, and its effects on the whole society may gradually emerge in the near future.

But in the meantime, these vulnerable workers who have to constantly move instead of settling down suffer the consequences of this lifestyle, such as instability, even though it helps them make a living.

To resolve the problem, Loc suggests that corporations and authorities should join hands to impose policies that better support middle-aged workers.

"Businesses should designate sustainable career paths for their laborers," he says. "They should ensure that their old, middle-aged workers are treated with respect instead of brutally fired so that businesses can hire new younger workers."

At the same time, authorities can also help by creating a more varied labor market, with more career chances and resources for middle-aged laborers. Plans to assist middle-aged workers in attending training courses for other careers, and providing opportunities for loans in case they aim to establish their own businesses, should be brought about, Loc says.

After all, nobody wants to have nowhere to settle and have no other choice than constantly changing their place of living just to make ends meet, Tin concludes.

"Having a place to call ‘home’ is the best, because all other places are foreign."

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