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Workers struggle to make ends meet in the aftermath of Covid

By Le Tuyet   March 2, 2022 | 09:30 pm PT
Meager wages that have not been raised for years and soaring healthcare expenses amid the pandemic mean many workers are struggling to achieve basic living standards.

My Hieu, 30, a worker at a Ho Chi Minh City factory, burst into tears when she heard overtime was being cut.

She left her hometown three years ago, and now works for electronics manufacturer Nidec Vietnam at the Saigon Hi-tech Park.

She and her husband, 32, earn a total of VND14 million ($614) month if they work 12-hour shifts for 22 days, which include 2.5 hours’ overtime a day.

Rent and utilities cost them VND2.5 million a month, and they pay their landlord another VND2 million to take care of their daughter while they are working. The rest is spent on food, gasoline, their daughter’s school fees, and other expenses.

Workers’ houses in Linh Xuan ward, Thu Duc, HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Workers’ houses in Linh Xuan ward, Thu Duc, HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

They make ends meet by working overtime and not getting sick. Without overtime pay, their income falls to VND10 million.

"Our basic salary has not increased for two years," Hieu said. During the fourth wave of Covid-19, their factory cut overtime, leaving the couple in tears.

Their family is hardly the only one struggling to make ends meet.

Citing the Anker living wage methodology, Dr Do Quynh Chi, head of the Research Center for Employment Relations (ERC), said in 2020 a minimum salary of VND7.5 million was required for workers in HCMC to achieve reasonable living standards for themselves and their families.

But most workers only get paid 7-10 percent higher than the minimum wage for working eight-hour shifts (minimum salary in cities is VND4.42 million), which is not adequate, another ERC survey showed.

Workers at Pouyuen Vietnam attend manicure courses in the hope of earning extra. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Workers at Pouyuen Vietnam attend manicure courses in the hope of earning extra. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

To make ends meet, workers have to work overtime. But this is hardly a satisfactory arrangement since, then, they have to pay for others to take care of their children and the overwork affects their health, costing them medical expenses.

A recent survey by the HCMC Confederation of Labor found that the average wage of women working in the textile and garment industry is VND6.8 million a month, but 20 percent of them earn less than VND5 million.

Forty two percent said they struggle to maintain reasonable living standards on their current incomes, and so do not save much money.

Workers also frequently borrow from friends and families, even loan sharks, to make ends meet.

"The delay in adjusting minimum wages is hurting workers," head of the Institute of Workers and Trade Union (IWTU) Vu Minh Tien said, adding that they are the backbone of the economy but do not get a fair deal for their contribution.

An IWTU survey showed that most workers have to work two to four hours overtime daily to earn enough for living. Without that, they have to resort to side jobs to supplement their income.

My Hieu and her husband, while waiting for their salaries to improve, want to work overtime every day to earn more.

Getting VND10 million to repay her mother is her short-term goal, but she no longer wants to work in the city.

"I’ll return with my family to my hometown in a few years and find a local factory to work in or work on my family’s land".

 
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