From bathroom queues to loud sex: workers’ on-site travails

By Pham Nga   October 4, 2021 | 06:47 pm GMT+7
At 1:30 a.m. Hai left the line of colleagues waiting to take a shower, giving up after five hours of waiting.

"The company has provided everything essential, a place to eat, to sleep... but not a decent bathroom," Chiem Hong Hai, 24, a worker at an electronics company in Thu Dau Mot Town in Binh Duong Province, says.

For the last few months his company has required workers wanting to continue working to live in the factory as a measure mandated by authorities to contain Covid-19, and so more than 1,000 people work, ate and live on-site.

The first day they stayed at work, everyone took their clothes to the bathrooms and found out there was not enough space for them. The company’s director asked them to use the 20-odd bathrooms in another building meant for managers and experts.

After losing his patience, he returned to his tent, thinking "being dirty" was preferable to waiting any longer. But he can rarely sleep well in a place where thousands of workers lie in tents since it is too warm.

The stay-at-work model was first tried at industrial parks in the northern Bac Giang and Bac Ninh provinces in May when the localities were under lockdown, and it helped companies avoid disruptions in production and sustain the supply chain.

It was then quickly adopted in southern provinces.

By August nearly 6,000 companies in the major industrial hubs of Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong and Dong Nai provinces had workers staying on-site or traveling in a bio-bubble between home and the workplace.

Workers at Has company are tested for Covid. Photo courtesy of Truc Ha

Workers at Ha's company are tested for Covid. Photo courtesy of Truc Ha

Dao Minh Tinh, chairman of the trade union at Hai’s company, says the company could not meet the needs of thousands of workers initially because of the suddenness of the requirements.

"On the third day the company installed dozens of field bathrooms and more fans for the workers. Air conditioners were installed after a month."

Taking care of their workers has been a challenge for many employers.

Le Thuy Truc Ha, head of human resources at a printing and fashion company in Binh Duong’s Tan Uyen Town, says nearly 300 people have been staying at the company since late June, and things have been difficult.

Some spend too much time bathing, forcing others to wait, she says.

"Some wait too long and get angry".

If bathing and eating and drinking are difficult enough, hanging out the wash is another big challenge. One day when it rained workers rushed out to get their clothes hanging outside, ignoring social distance.

At many places, imposing rules on thousands of workers is not easy amid the modest living conditions.

Men and women workers at Hai's company sleep in two different places but in the same building.

Each person is provided with a tent but they are close to each other, and Hai sleeps next to a man whose wife works in the same company. She often sneaks into her husband’s tent at night, taking away what little sleep Hai can manage.

Their intimacy is "too loud", he says.

Sometimes he angrily tells them to let people sleep, but they simply ignore him.

"The company is good, but the employees make themselves and their colleagues miserable" is his conclusion after living at the workplace for nearly three months.

Nguyen Hong Nhung, an employee at a furniture producer in Binh Duong, says stay-at-work lasted exactly one week at her company.

More than 700 employees lived on-site, but on the very first day the police came after workers played cards, ate and drank together, and live-streamed the whole thing on social networks. Others went out surreptitiously to buy things. Within a week the company became a Covid hotspot with 40 people becoming infected.

A medic sanitizes tents of workers in a company in southern Binh Duong Province. Photo courtesy of Ngpc Vy

A medic sanitizes tents of workers in a company in southern Binh Duong Province. Photo courtesy of Ngoc Vy

"Mistakenly" using others’ belongings also seems to be a problem.

"I brought seven garments, but just a few days later I had nothing to wear," Hai says.

At Nhung’s Company, workers charged their cell phones in a common place. But when she plugged hers in and took a walk, it went missing. Upset, she took a power socket to her tent, violating safety regulations.

Companies also have the problem of taking care of workers’ babies. Ha's company had five children staying with their parents, provides them with free food and allows them to sleep with their parents.

Hai's company on the other hand did not allow children to stay on its premises, and within the first week six employees quit.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment has admitted that the model is too expensive for many businesses and ensuring social distance is also very difficult, and so many have called for more suitable models.

Enterprises also want to speed up vaccination of their employees and more support from the government in the form of deferring tax payments.

Le Xuan Tan, a director of Hanh Phuc company in Dong Nai Province, said businesses needed more time to prepare for the stay-at-work model and take care of thousands of workers.

Hai and many of his colleagues have become used to working and living at the workplace, but his ‘neighbor’ has resigned.

In the last three months Hai’s income has increased by VND3-5 million ($132 - 220), and he did not have to spend anything on food and other items.

"Now I’ve started to like this model."

 
 
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