Hanoi workers underemployed as factory orders dwindle

By Hong Chieu, Pham Chieu   November 30, 2022 | 01:58 am PT
Hanoi workers underemployed as factory orders dwindle
A job seeker at the Thang Long Industrial Park in Hanoi’s Dong Anh District, late 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Chieu
Huyen has provided for her family by working at least 6 days a week, usually more than 8 hours a day, for a decade.

But this month, for the first time in 10 years, she had weekends off and barely got in 40 hours of work Monday-Friday.

However, she and her colleagues are not happy about the idle time. Huyen says they spend their days off rationing vegetables and hoping with bated breath for more work.

Even after working overtime most of the year, Huyen is no longer able to send money home to support her family in the south.

She says that even when she eats less and skips the luxuries of meat and fish, she’s unable to save anything.

Without getting more hours of work, Huyen and many like her fear their families won’t have enough to eat during the upcoming Tet (Lunar New Year Holiday).

The electronics plant where she works now provides little more than half the salary she’s used to making: about $6.5 a day, or less than some $0.85 per 8-hour workday.

"This month my income is solely the basic salary, a little over VND5 million ($202.88)," Huyen says.

Before starting work at the electronics components production plant in Hanoi’s Thang Long Industrial Park early this year, Huyen worked in the southern province of Binh Duong for 10 years.

For workers like Huyen, working overtime used to sap all their time and energy, and in some cases even their good health. But now they want it back because what they get paid without it simply isn’t enough.

Dan, another diligent electronics factory worker at the Thang Long Industrial Park, also wants more hours. said he said he finds himself in the same situation as Huyen.

"Now I’m more free than I’ve ever been," he says sarcastically, lamenting the loss of overtime work.

Dan says he makes 30% less than he used to.

But he’s unwilling to quit to find a new job because even a few days or weeks without steady work means his two childres won’t be able to afford school fees.

"This year, we have no Tet," Dan says. The "we" is not just his family.

He points out that most workers at the plant know they’re not going to get a holiday bonus this year. Their only hope is to not get laid off entirely.

Workers at the Thang Long Industrial Park in Hanoi after work in November 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Chieu

Workers at the Thang Long Industrial Park in Hanoi after work in November 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Chieu

Huyen and Dan are just two of nearly 6,500 underemployed workers in Hanoi.

Many factories in the capital and throughout the country are receiving fewer orders than before.

But from north to south, industries have been receiving less and less orders in this last quarter. And reports of under employment and joblessness have been coming from previously successful blue-collar sectors.

According to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, as of mid-November, 485 enterprises in 28 cities and provinces nationwide have had to scale down operations due to a decline in orders.

Of the 485 enterprises, nearly 62% were located in the south, and of all 570,000 underemployed workers nationwide, 87% worked in the southern region.

Some 34,500 workers have been terminated and over 31,000 have taken unpaid leave.

The garment, textiles, footwear, wood processing, electronics, foodstuff, service and tourism industries have been hit hardest by the demand gap.

Many are located in southern provinces like Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Long An and An Giang.

Studies by the Center for Strategic Analysis and Forecast at the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs show that with fewer orders, even dominant enterprises need less hours of work. Many are trying to weather the storm by placing workers on shifts and paying them 30% of what they’re used to -- instead of firing them.

The center’s director, Pham Ngoc Toan, said that the underemployment situation will last at least through the first quarter of next year. He emphasized that the cumulative effects of the problem will only further destabilize the market in the meantime.

He explained that laid-off urban workers tend to return to their hometowns for jobs with lower even lower salaries. In the past, this compounding effect has then led to labor shortages when the economy turns around and large firms need more workers to fill more orders.

"This may lead to a vicious circle, posing a labor shortage at industrial parks when enterprises resume full operations," Toan stated.

However, experts say that similar employment problems – like those Vietnam experienced during Covid two years ago – have been temporary and have been resolved before permanent damage had been done to the market.

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