Blue-collar wages ravaged by school closure trapping parents at home

By Long Nguyen   February 18, 2020 | 11:29 pm PT
Blue-collar wages ravaged by school closure trapping parents at home
Workers at a textile factory produce face masks. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
With remote working not an option, looking after their children during work hours is proving a burden to many blue-collar employees.

It is Monday morning, but Tran Thi Cuc, a 35-year-old employee in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Tan District, does not go to work, but stays home to look after her son, who is supposed to be at school.

"My husband is a Grab bike driver; he stayed home last week with our son. It is my turn this week," the mother said, adding she is trying to convince the boy to stay with a neighbor.

During the last three weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday, Vietnamese students had their break extended due to fears over of the spreading coronavirus.

Last week, Minister of Education and Training Phung Xuan Nha asked the chairperson of the people's committees of cities and provinces to consider allowing students to stay home until the end of February.

Closure of schools across the country has posed a great challenge for parents taking care of their youngsters while at work. While a number can work remotely or hire temporary helpers; blue-collar workers or immigrants cannot afford expensive daycare services or make money while staying home.

Having no one to keep a watchful eye on their children, some have resorted to their parents living nearby.

Nguyen Thi Phuong, who works at a paper-producing company in Hanoi, is one. After Tet, she sent her son and daughter to her mother's home in Gia Lam District to "focus on earning money."

"I know that I am lucky because my parents are nearby, and they are able to take care of my kids," Phuong commented. She visits them twice a week.

Not all seniors are in a position to look after their grandchildren.

Phuong's sister-in-law, Ngoc, had sent her 5-year-old son to her hometown in northern Nghe An Province. After a week, with her mother struggling to keep an eye on her hyperactive grandson while having to caring for her husband, who has Parkinson's, Ngoc knew she had to make another plan.

Cuc in HCMC shares the same problem as her mother cares for another 4-month-old granddaughter in southern Ca Mau Province, "which is too far to be feasible."

In the last two weeks, Cuc's husband has stayed home during the day with their 6-year-old son and only worked as a driver in the evening, allowing his wife to go to her plastic-producing factory. It was not too long until he started complaining his earnings were being severely affected.

"I asked my manager to take three days off this week, so my husband could go out and make some money. Many of my colleagues have the same issue," Cuc confirmed.

After the three days off, she plans to send her son to a neighbor's house, costing VND120,000 ($5.1) per day, including lunch.

"If the school closes until the end of this month and I send him to the neighbor's house, it will cost me nearly VND2 millions ($86), nearly one-fourth of my income," she noted.

After asking for two days off next week, she is thinking about leaving the kid home alone and coming home during lunch.

"My husband will never let that happen because it is risky, the boy is too young, but staying at home hurts our wallet."

Not letting her income be affected by the spreading virus, Ngoc takes her son to work after gaining her supervisor's approval. Working at a factory in Hanoi's Long Bien District, Ngoc lets the boy use a tablet so "he could keep quiet instead of run around or talk too much."

Last Friday, another colleague brought her daughter to the factory, both kids getting on well together, according to Ngoc.

"As long as they are not noisy or hyperactive, it is okay for us to bring them here until schools reopen," she confirmed.

Despite the struggle of looking after their children during the day, many parents are not sure whether they want to send their minors to school at the moment anyway.


While the new coronavirus is not yet under control and the number of infections worldwide increases, the majority of parents do not want to send their kids back to school, no matter how challenging it is.

"After the festival season, who knows where the kids had been to, and they are too young to know how to protect themselves from the virus," said Nguyen Thanh Phuc, a Grab driver in HCMC. His 8-year-old daughter follows her mother to the hair salon where she works by day.

"The chemical smells at the salon are not good for her, but we have no choice," Phuc said.

In HCMC, learning authorities plan to extend the school break until April due to Covid-19, some parents are scared the may lose their jobs.

"I cannot work at home with a laptop, and I am not allowed to take my child to work, and thinking about facing this situation over a long period gives me a headache," said Cuc.

"The kids miss their teachers and friends. The unexpected break is too much to bear for us," added Nguyen Hoang Viet, a 33-year-old tour guide. Last year, he sent his daughter to his hometown in central Khanh Hoa Province during her summer break, but the epidemic now prevents him from leaving the girl.

However, he admits "sending youngsters back to school could be a perilous move."

Vietnam has reported 16 Covid-19 infections, 11 of them have been declared healthy and discharged from hospital.

As of Wednesday, the global death toll has climbed to 2,009 and confirmed infections topped 75,000. Nearly 15,000 patients have recovered.

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