Overtime sole option to make ends meet: Vietnamese workers

By Hong Chieu   March 23, 2022 | 04:20 am PT
Overtime sole option to make ends meet: Vietnamese workers
A worker is seen in a ceramics manufacturing plant of Catalan Ceramics. Photo by VnExpress/Hong Chieu
Most Vietnamese workers want the overtime cap increased for no other reason than it offers them the only possibility of earning enough to cover their daily expenses.

When Tran Trung Nghia from the northern province of Tuyen Quang started looking for a job last year, his biggest criterion was whether the employer allowed overtime.

"I like overtime," the 24-year-old said, adding that the extra hours mean his dinner is paid for by the company and that his monthly salary of VND9 million ($393.42) is 50 percent higher than non-overtime workers.

After deducting expenses for rent and meals, Nghia usually sends the remaining amount, VND6 million, to his mother in his hometown.

Leaving the company at 6 p.m., his activities in the evening merely include cooking, doing laundry, scrolling on social media and going to bed.

Electronics manufacturer Goertek Vina, where Nghia works, is allowed to let each worker have 300 hours of overtime a year.

But it is seeking to raise the cap to 400-500 hours a year.

"Most workers want more overtime," said Pham Van Trung, chairman of the company’s labor union, adding that workers have expressed the desire clearly during the company’s meetings.

The reason is is simple: "The current salary is not enough to cover minimum living costs," legislator Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam has pointed out at a National Assembly session in October 2019.

Working overtime is a "must" for many workers, and some leave their kids in the hands of their relatives in order to work overtime, she added.

Since then, the average minimum wage has been increased by 5.7 percent to VND3.7 million, while gasoline prices have surged 150 percent, cooking gas 35 percent, and cooking oil and other ingredients by 20-30 percent.

The Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs has proposed that the 300-hour per year overtime cap be applied to all sectors, instead of the select few now, to hasten post-pandemic recovery,

Although any overtime must be approved by both the employer and the employee, Nguyen Duc Loc, head of the Social Life Research Institute, said that workers would always say yes to an overtime cap increase because they badly need the extra income.

"They have no other choice. For a long time, the minimum wage has been unable to catch up with living expenses," he said

Young people are exhausting themselves working overtime at factories and in the long run this will put pressure on the country’s insurance, medical and retirement systems, Loc added.

A survey done by U.K.-based NGO, Oxfam and the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions in 2019 showed that 69 percent of garment workers were unable to make ends meet with their salary.

Thirty-one percent could not make save any money and 37 percent were always in debt just to cover living expenses.

This is why Tran Thi Lan of Hanoi-based Garment 10 Corp has been working around 10 hours a day, six days a week, for the last 10 years to take care of her family of five.

Over this decade, her salary has risen by 14 percent to over VND8 million now, including overtime.

With her husband’s salary of VND5 million, the 36-year-old is able to send her kids to school.

Lan takes them for a walk around the neighborhood every Sunday afternoon. That is the only entertainment that the family can afford.

Both Land and Nghia are willing to work more if the government increases the overtime cap.

"I can’t be a [blue-collar] worker forever," Nghia said, adding however, that he did not know when he would be able to leave the factory for a better job.

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