Migrant workers try to get back on their feet as Covid restrictions ease

By Phan Duong, Dac Thanh, Nguyen Hai   October 17, 2021 | 07:49 pm PT
Many migrants want to stay back in their hometowns, where they feel safer amid Covid-19, but some are returning to cities and industrial hubs to find jobs.

In Quang Xuong District in Thanh Hoa Province, Binh has gone to the beach. Under an umbrella in front of his house, his wife, Gai, sits alone with a pot of pickles and no customers.

"Another day of earning nothing," the 50-year-old woman says.

Since the fourth wave of Covid began, the couple have set themselves a goal of catching three kilograms of clams every day, which will fetch around VND60,000 ($2.63), and earning a similar amount from selling pickles and snacks.

"Every month my family pays more than VND1 million for electricity and water and bank interest," she says.

They have to work hard to earn enough to take care of their three children, she adds.

Truong Thi Gai sells snacks for a living. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Hien

Truong Thi Gai sells snacks for a living. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Hien

In their commune, 50 percent of families have migrated to earn a living elsewhere.

Since the late 1990s Binh and Gai have lived far from home for 11 months a year.

In 2019 she suffered from spondylolisthesis and had to borrow money for surgery. Covid has affected their jobs, putting a strain on the family's finances.

In April they returned to their hometown when Binh's brother died, and the fresh outbreak meant they were stuck there and could not return to Binh Duong Province.

Without savings, she has been afraid it will be difficult for her family to cope with the prolonged lockdown.

They plan to open a grocery store, but do not know how to find the money for it. "There's no savings, just debt."

More than 1.3 million migrant workers returned to their hometowns between July and September 15, according to the General Statistics Office.

Of the 930,000 people aged 15 and over who have returned, only 34 percent have jobs in their hometown, 38 percent do not, and the rest are fearful of Covid and do not want to work yet.

Vo Thanh Binh, 28, of Nghi Loc District, Nghe An Province, says he earns up to VND200,000 a day as a delivery worker for a local firm.

Though the money is not much, Binh is happy with it. His wife is a worker, and their two children are in primary and secondary schools.

When asked if he will return to the south in future, Binh says, "definitely not."

"Five years away from home was a difficult time we went through to earn money. Now I am home, I eat whatever we have here, I feel comfortable, I have relatives and neighbors to rely on."

Binh's family attracted the attention of the online community a few months ago for cycling from Dong Nai Province to his hometown with only VND800,000 in their pocket.

He has only been employed for a week. His mother, also a returnee, has rented a small shop to sell goods, while his sister is looking for a job.

Binh’s family makes health declarations in coastal Ninh Thuan Province. Photo courtesy of Ninh Phuong District police

Binh’s family makes health declarations in coastal Ninh Thuan Province. Photo courtesy of Ninh Phuong District police

Pham Hoai Nam, head of the GSO's department of population and labor statistics, says, "It is difficult to attract workers back to industrial zones and big cities".

Pandemic prevention policies differ from place to place, and so workers cannot rely on consistency in the measures.

Pham Truong Son, deputy director of the Non-Profit Partnerships in the south, says after being stuck in cramped rooms and living in deprivation for months, fearful of the pandemic and what the future holds, many people are not keen to return to cities.

Social insurance, health and education for migrant workers and their children are also crucial, he says.

"Let us see them as part of the city".

While a reverse migration from cities to rural areas is ongoing, many are also returning to Ho Chi Minh City to work.

In Tam Ky City in the central Quang Nam Province, Nguyen Van Khanh, 31, bid farewell to his wife and children and left by a hired car with three other people to HCMC on Oct. 8. It cost them VND10 million.

All are fully vaccinated and cannot find jobs in their hometown.

Khanh thinks if he can earn VND8 million in the city, he can send his wife and children half of that.

"At night I can work as a delivery worker to earn extra money".

He had spent two days thinking about returning to Saigon before making up his mind.

A family returns home in northern Vietnam from the south by motorbike, October 7, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

A family returns home in northern Vietnam from the south by motorbike, Oct. 7, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

In 2013, he first went to the southern metro to work as a driver, and met and married his wife, a hairdresser, there. When the pandemic broke out, the couple were unemployed for several months. Since she was about to give birth, they were able to return to Quang Nam on a flight organized by the province authorities.

The Quang Nam administration planned to create 4,500 jobs for returnees, and Khanh registered to work as a driver, but then the pandemic resurged.

He says: "I applied for a job as a driver in industrial parks and companies in Quang Nam, but no one wanted to hire me, and drivers do not earn a high income here".

He has been unemployed for two months.

In October HCMC lifted its long lockdown, and the company where Khanh had worked earlier announced normal operations would resume. He decided to go back.

The night before he left his wife spoke words of encouragement.

With the VND4 million he can send back every month, she can pay VND1.7 million for her daughter's education, baby's diapers and food.

"At home, my parents provide rice and vegetables, so we can save some money," Khanh hopes.

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