From hero to zero: Unemployed urbanites lose out to Covid-19

By Long Nguyen   May 19, 2020 | 06:17 pm PT
From hero to zero: Unemployed urbanites lose out to Covid-19
A tour guide losing his job in the pandemic works as a delivery man. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Thu.
Having suddenly lost their jobs, many city dwellers are in free fall, grabbing at any possible opportunity amid uncertainty and stress.

Tran Thanh Thao, 44, moved out of her apartment in Saigon's District 11 last month after failing to cover rent for her four-member family.

Since the beginning of this week, she has kept a constant eye out for her unemployment insurance. Employed as a chef at a five-star hotel in District 1 for over 13 years, at a salary of VND15 million ($643) per month, this is the first time in her life Thao has no job.

"My life is simple, but I have two kids to feed. I applied for unemployment benefits," she said.

Thao is among millions of workers that have lost their jobs to the coronavirus crisis, posing an ordeal many had never before experienced.

According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), the Covid-19 pandemic has cost nearly five million Vietnamese workers their jobs as of mid-April, bringing Q1 employment figures to a 10-year low.

Until mid-April, processing and manufacturing industries were most heavily impacted, with 1.2 million jobs affected, followed by wholesale and retail, 1.1 million, plus accommodation and catering services, 740,000, GSO stated.

Security guards, hairdressers, waiters, salespersons, and bartenders are all suddenly jobless. For how long, no one can be sure.

Now, many find themselves with a lot of time, but no income and an abundance of pressure.

Free fall

"I have never been unemployed in my whole life, and I cannot believe I have no job at the age of 47," said Pham Hoang Van, a hotelier in Ho Chi Minh City.

The first thing he did after learning he would be fired was check his bank account, only telling his wife one week later.

"The reality struck me slowly, I was an efficient worker and felt I was betrayed and had lost it all. But I had to adapt and move on," said the breadwinner and father of two who used to earn up to VND30 million ($1,268) a month.

"I went from hero to zero."

Many young city residents, without safety nets, have experienced extreme stress brought on by unemployment.

"I spent several days rolling with the punches, asking all my friends about jobs because I have no insurance," said Nguyen Hoang Tu, waiter at a bar in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem District.

Tu plans to return to his hometown in northern Yen Bai Province in May, "If good news does not come my way."

"Ashamed and useless, I have not told my family."

A lucky few have had the privilege to resort to unemployment insurance.

Van, losing his job after a mass layoff in March, decided to apply for the insurance later that month, "having no hope in finding a new job amid present circumstances."

"I felt bad and resisted thinking about getting a new job soon. For the first time in my life, I visited the city's employment center, where I had to wait five hours alongside hundreds of others," he said.

According to HCMC Employment Center, 34,000 workers applied for unemployment insurance in Q1, a 6.9 percent year-on-year increase. Most are blue collar employees (50 percent), office workers (6.68 percent), and accountants (6.63 percent).

Nguyen Kieu Trinh, 35, lost her job at a visa service firm in Saigon's District 7 after business dried up. Applying for insurance in April, she hopes to access around VND8 million ($343) monthly.

"They told me to apply for a new bank account, but the money is still nowhere in sight," she lamented.

The unexpected situation has left Trinh and many others buckling under the financial burden of keeping up with bills and hunting future opportunities.

"Job loss hit me hard," said Nguyen Thuy Vy, 27, real estate agent in Saigon's District 11, with VND20 million ($858) in her savings account she confirms won’t last long.

"I have to decide what bills to pay or postpone until I find a new job," she said, adding she has applied for over 20 jobs, "without response."

Vy and many others have learned to tighten their belts by canceling subscriptions, cutting spending on food to keep anxiety at bay.

Up to 10.3 million workers could be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, losing jobs or seeing their incomes decline in the second quarter, International Labour Organization (ILO) reported.

According to GSO, the pandemic will pose a significant challenge for enterprises and workers, with more to face unemployment.

"The virus did not kill us, but hit our lives and wallets. No matter how anxious or poor I am, I want to be a good mother for my son and daughter," Thao said, now residing in a cheaper apartment from where she sells home-cooked dishes.

go to top