Workers’ dilemma as Vietnam considers increase in overtime cap

By Le Tuyet   January 19, 2022 | 05:26 am PT
Workers’ dilemma as Vietnam considers increase in overtime cap
Workers are seen at garment factory Phong Phu in HCMC's Thu Duc City. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong
Circumstances are tough and workers need more money, but a proposal to significantly increase overtime cap has experts worried about workers’ health and their families’ well-being.

Nguyen Thi Hao has no complaints whatsoever about the labor ministry considering increasing the monthly overtime cap for a worker from 40 to 72 hours.

The HCMC resident is perfectly willing to spend more time at her factory.

"That is the only way I can increase my income."

Last year, when HCMC restricted manufacturing for nearly four months over the Covd-19 pandemic, the single mom barely received any salary. She found it difficult to feed her child, now living with Hao’s parents in Ben Tre Province.

After six years of working for the Thuong Dinh Garment Company in HCMC’s Hoc Mon District, Hao gets over VND5 million ($220) a month, of which she spends 60 percent on rent and taking care of her child back home.

Of the remaining 40 percent, she tries to spend as little as possible. She gets an extra meal whenever she works overtime until 8 p.m.

"Working overtime is tiring, but it is beneficial in many ways," Hao said, adding that she plans to spend the extra income from 30 hours of overtime this month on new clothes for her 12-year-old son who is eagerly waiting for his mother to return home.

Nguyen Thi Thao speaks with her son in a video chat in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Nguyen Thi Thao speaks with her son in a video chat in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

After a year of major disruptions in manufacturing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnamese lawmakers are considering raising the overtime cap for each worker to 300 hours a year in all sectors. Any overtime must be approved by both the employer and the employee, the labor ministry has said.

But some workers are concerned that such regulation might not be observed in practice.

"I do not have the right to choose whether to work overtime or not. If the company demands, I have to work, as I am part of a production line," said Ngoc Bich, who works in the same company as Thao.

If her husband also comes home late due to overtime, Bich’s two children will have no choice but to cook and eat instant noodles on their own.

Overtime is only suitable for unmarried workers, said Bich, who is in her forties. She said it was difficult for her to push herself to sit and work for 12 hours a day.

Nguyen Thi Dan, former office representative of the labor ministry in the south, said that although the global trend is to reduce working hours, the opposite is true in Vietnam.

The overtime cap has increased from 30 hours in 2012 to 40 hours in 2019 and now the labor ministry is proposing 72 hours, she said.

An eight-hour work time frame ensures that workers have enough time to rest, and extending this will see their health deteriorate in the long run, she added.

However, a survey by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor in October last year showed that over 80 percent of workers were willing to work more than 40 hours of overtime each month, or 200-300 hours a year.

The main reason for this willingness was their current incomes were too low to make ends meet, the survey found.

Dan said extra working hours means children get to spend less time with their parents. Businesses and workers might gain from more overtime, but the next generation will lose out.

Not for profit, seasonal need

Several companies have said that they need a higher overtime cap not to make more profit but because their business is seasonal.

Tran Tien Phat, deputy CEO of electronics manufacturer Datalogic Vietnam in Thu Duc City, said that there were months when the company receives orders exceeding its capacity, but this happens only for several months in the year.

For example, workers at Datalogic Vietnam had to work four hours overtime each day in the last quarter, but they don’t have to do this this quarter, he said.

The company cannot recruit more workers only for just one quarter, he added.

Sharing Phat’s view, Nguyen Thi Lien, deputy director of textile producer Phong Phu in the same city, said garment companies have been requesting a higher overtime cap for years as their work was seasonal.

There are times when a buyer wants an order produced at one factory, but because that factory has reached its overtime limit, her company has to negotiate with the buyer to produce the rest at another factory.

This does not mean that the factories are overworking its employees, as overtime must be conducted on a voluntary basis, she said, adding that overworking an employee for the whole month will only strain them out and increase labor turnover.

Phat said that his company often gives employees more than the legally required increase when they work overtime. The company pays overtime salary of 200 percent of the normal rate, against the 150 percent rate that the law requires, he said.

Workers also receive milk, vitamins, three meals and snacks if they work for 12 hours, which includes 1.5 hours for breaks.

Dan said that the increase in overtime cap should only be applied in the short-term to aid economic recovery after Covid-19 impacts. In the long run, this would go against the global trend, she said.

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