Economy - June 15, 2022 | 05:12 pm PT

Factories in a bind as workers seek greener pastures

Earlier this month, Le Xuan Truong showed up at a recruitment event of ride-hailing company Gojek to apply for a motorbike driver’s job.

The 23-year-old worked for electronics manufacturer Top Opto in District 7 for three years, but he’d had enough of the 12 hours a day work week for a salary of nearly VND10 million ($430.29) per month.

"It’s just eating, sleeping, working and repeat. Boring."

A worker is seen at a garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City in October 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

He said he believed that the new job as a ride-hailing driver will give him free time to train to become a barber, which has always been his dream.

Tran Hong Yen in HCMC also quit her job recently after 14 years of working for Furukawa Automotive Parts Vietnam to focus on selling cosmetics online.

The factory job gave her a stable income of over VND10 million per month (if she worked for 12 hours a day), but she wanted more, and had been selling cosmetics online during her time away from the factory.

Yen and Truong are among many workers who have chosen to quit their factory jobs to pursue new careers with the promise of higher income and greater flexibility. Some market observers see this as a sign of declining willingness to work long hours in physically challenging jobs.

A survey by recruitment platform Viec Lam Tot earlier this month found over 60 percent of 1,300 labor workers wanting to find new jobs.

They were looking for opportunities to work online and at home, or as ride-hailing drivers or delivery people, it said.

Tran Minh Ngoc, director of the platform, said that since earlier this year, workers have been looking for higher salaries and more benefits in their job search. This meant that establishments in the manufacturing and processing sectors, which require workers to show up at the factory, were facing immediate challenges in recruitment and this trend was likely to continue.

Although factories have been increasing salaries for manufacturing jobs, they cannot compete with newer jobs that help workers make money faster and in easier fashion, she added.

Data compiled by Viec Lam Tot shows that HCMC factories have increased workers’ average salary by 11 percent to VND9.1 million from pre-pandemic times.

But shippers, who only need a smartphone and a motorbike to begin working and can stop anytime, saw their average earnings rise by the same rate to VND10.1 million.

As workers start to leave factories, companies are struggling to find enough employees to keep their post-pandemic recovery going.

Luu Kim Hong, head of the labor union at electronics manufacturer Nidec Vietnam in HCMC, said that the company was finding it difficult to recruit workers as people wanted the freedom to work and rest at their convenience.

The factory can hire 6,000 workers, but so far it has only signed contracts with about 3,000.

"Without additional recruitments, the factory can only continue to operate at half capacity."

A survey by the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs and ManpowerGroup has found that one in five foreign direct investment companies in the manufacturing and processing sector expected difficulties in recruiting workers, both in terms of quality and numbers, from 2021 to 2023.

It also found that around 49 percent of workers were willing to switch to another job at another company for better salary and benefits.

Other factors that workers consider when changing jobs are flexibility, working environment, business culture and opportunities for growth, the survey found.

Nguyen Thu Trang, senior director of recruitment at ManpowerGroup Vietnam, said that company leaders need to offer competitive salaries and ensure good working environments to retain workers.

Hiring temporary workers will also help companies to reduce costs by at least 30 percent compared to long-term workers, he said.

Nguyen Tam Thanh, regional director of food company Cargill in Vietnam and Thailand, said that as more and more workers prefer to change jobs to experience new work environments, factories could consider hiring from a labor supply company.

Most factories now have direct contracts with 85 percent of their workers, and the remaining are part-time employees or hired through other suppliers, she said.

But the latter ratio could gradually increase to 15-25 percent or even 50 percent, she said, adding that hiring from a supplier could reduce costs by 30 percent compared to signing direct contracts.

For now, recruitment remains a challenge for many factories as many workers like Yen choose to leave.

With no intention of returning to any factory, Yen has withdrawn her social insurance premiums and used that money to fund her new business, which she believes will beget better income and require less physical hardship.

She said: "I have been able to save some money from the factory job, but I cannot live like that for the rest of my life."

Le Tuyet, Dat Nguyen