Worker shortage in northern factories as Covid hits industrial parks

By Hong Chieu   March 13, 2022 | 04:44 pm PT
Worker shortage in northern factories as Covid hits industrial parks
Closed stations are seen at a garment factory in northern Vietnam amid rising number of Covid-19 cases in March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Truong Vu
Northern factories have been struggling to keep production going over the last several weeks as Covid-19 spreads across industrial parks and forces thousands of workers to stay at home.

Of the 35 workers Pham Thi Chung manages in her garment production line, 29 contracted Covid-19 within one week.

"Our factory was nearly paralyzed as many stations had to be closed," said Chung, referring to earlier this month when the virus spread in her company in the northern province of Thai Binh. The province has been recording an average of nearly 2,300 new cases a day this month.

With 80 percent of nearly 1,600 workers infected, Chung worked for three days after she herself got Covid-19 symptoms, only going home to rest after they got worse.

The story of Chung’s factory has been repeated at other manufacturing facilities in northern Vietnam for several weeks now.

The daily Covid-19 tally has climbed to record highs after the government shifted to a "living with Covid" strategy; and the ensuing worker shortage has meant factories struggling to keep production going.

In the last seven days nearly 240,000 Covid-19 cases were confirmed each day nationwide, with the hotspots being the northern localities of Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Bac Giang and Nghe An, where many factories are located.

In Bac Giang, human resources director Nguyen Van Huy with electronics manufacturer New Wing said that in his 10-year career, he has never seen the situation become as difficult as it has in recent weeks.

More than 2,000 workers, or 10 percent of the workforce, had contracted the novel coronavirus by the end of last month, he said, adding that this figure exceeded that of May last year when Bac Giang was the Covid-19 epicenter of the country.

The province, which hosts eight industrial parks with over 240,000 workers, had more than 30,000 employees stay home this month after contracting Covid-19 or having come into direct contact with infected people.

Some factories are operating at 50-60 percent of their capacity and rushing to recruit new workers.

New Wing is one of them. In the rush to ensure orders are completed on time and buyers don’t impose stiff penalties, the company announced it was looking for 1,000 new workers, promising bonuses to workers who immediately returned to work after testing negative.

In Hanoi, Nguyen Van Hung saw his 25-people electrics equipment production line down two-thirds in the past seven days.

"Each of the rest of us had to work literally as three people."

Hung himself tested negative just a week ago, but did not have the luxury of staying home for the full two-week quarantine as the short-staffed company called him back after 10 days.

"I hope that all the infected workers will soon recover and get back to work. The rest of us won’t be able to hold on for long like this."

With 79.3 percent of the population vaccinated, and the death ratio declining to 0.8 percent of total infections compared to around 2.5 percent in the third quarter last year, the government has lifted almost all restrictions to help the economy recover as fast as possible after suffering two years of pandemic impacts.

In the new normal scenario, Chung returned to work Monday after self-treatment of seven days.

Some of her colleagues were still coughing and tired, but they tried to keep production going to ensure orders meet deadlines.

Chung plans to work overtime for the rest of the month to make up for the days she took off.

"Covid-19 is no longer too scary. We just have to live with it."

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