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HCMC industrial employees fearful and anxious to go to work

By Le Tuyet   June 24, 2021 | 05:30 pm PT
Many workers at HCMC industrial parks remain fearful about safety and exposure to the Covid-19 virus, for themselves and their families.

Since the day a Covid-19 patient was detected in the factory run by Taiwanese-invested footwear maker Pouyuen in HCMC’s Binh Tan District, Kim Truc has been going to work in a state of anxiety, confusion and fear of infecting family members at home.

The 39-year-old woman lives in Long An Province’s Ben Luc District and has been commuting to work in the company’s shuttle bus for 20 years now.

The company, which has more than 56,000 employees, recorded its the first Covid-19 case more than 10 days ago. Some areas in the factory were cordoned off and many workers were temporarily laid off. But, since the factory had to work on customers’ orders, workers like Truc have to regularly work overtime to make up for their absent colleagues

"I can't afford to be sick, but how can I quit my job?"

Kim Truc wears a face mask even at home to keep her loved ones safe. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

Kim Truc wears a face mask even at home to keep her loved ones safe. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

As a single mother for many years, all expenses in the family of five, including her parents and two children, depend on her salary.

To protect herself at work, Truc wears two face masks at the same time, and adds an anti-droplet shield outside. She keeps in her pocket an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a saline solution to rinse her mouth that she uses once every hour. She brings cooked meals from home, avoiding the canteen and other crowded places.

Despite strictly complying with preventive measures, Truc is always insecure because many new local infections have been detected near the factory.

Sometimes, during working hours, medical staff arrive at the workplace to take some of her colleagues to quarantine camps, adding to her worry.

"In the past, every day, I wanted to finish work quickly and return home to my children. Now I get on the shuttle bus and worry about bringing the virus home," Truc said, adding that at home, she prepares and eats by herself in a separate area and wears a mask even when she sleeps. She also plans to rent a motel room near the shuttle bus stop as temporary accommodation during the "epidemic season" in the hope of keeping her loved ones safe.

Bui Thi Thanh Hong, 40, a worker with Taiwanese textile firm Paiho at the Tan Tao Industrial Park in Binh Tan District, a Covid-19 hotspot in Ho Chi Minh City, is also besides herself with anxiety, especially after hearing that the factory near her workplace had detected 27 cases, forcing all workers there to go to centralized quarantine camps.

During her eight hour shift at the factory, Hong doesn’t talk to anyone and goes straight to her room after her shift ends. She keeps telling herself to stay calm and worry less about the risk of getting infected.

"The day I heard that my husband’s workplace had detected positive cases, my body trembled," Hong said, adding that her spouse’s factory was too crowded. Many times, she’d wanted to tell her husband to take a break and wait for the pandemic to die down, but thinking about all the bills and family expenses, the couple have continued to work.

Medical staff take workers’ samples for Covid-19 testing at the Tan Tao Industrial Park in HCMC’s Binh Tan District. Photo by VnExpress/The Nguyen.

Medical staff take workers’ samples for Covid-19 testing at the Tan Tao Industrial Park in HCMC’s Binh Tan District. Photo by VnExpress/The Nguyen.

For the past 10 years, Hong’s two children have been staying with their grandmother in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang. On weekends, the couple take a bus to visit the kids. But, for the past two months, her family members have only been meeting each other online. In her 20 years in HCMC as a factory worker, this is the most difficult and worrying period that she has experienced.

HCMC currently has 1.6 million workers – 320,000 at export processing zones and a high-tech park and the rest at 17 industrial zones. With factory employees working in a closed, crowded environment, conditions are conducive for a virus outbreak and difficult to control once it happens.

According to the Ho Chi Minh City Federation of Labor, in just one week (June 10-17), 369 workers found infected with Covid-19, nearly 4,500 F1 (first generation infectees) suspects had to be isolated in centralized camps and more than 13,000 people quarantined at home and other places of residence.

The fourth Covid-19 wave in the country has reached many factories, including Pouyuen and South Korean footwear maker Samho (10,000 workers) in HCMC.

In HCMC's neighboring Binh Duong Province, which is also home to many industrial zones with more than 1.2 million workers, 201 infections have been recorded in the the latest Covid-19 wave, causing more than 5,000 workers to suspend working.

Psychological help

Vincent Chen, who is in charge of the Covid-19 safety team of Pouyuen, said that the best way for workers to safely head back to work is for the factory to strengthen prevention measures and comply with the requirements of the Ministry of Health.

Work in progress at the Pouyuen factory, June 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Work in progress at the Pouyuen factory, June 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Every day, workers have to get their body temperature checked, make medical declarations and be equipped with necessary safety equipment during production. The company also has many groups to monitor, advise and support workers suffering psychological insecurities, he said.

Ho Xuan Lam, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Federation of Labor, said that all factories now have a safety team to prevent and control the pandemic. Trade union officials are part of such teams, which are responsible on a daily basis for checking and monitoring compliance with preventive measures among workers. The teams have regular exchanges with workers, enabling the sharing of concerns and worries, and offer solutions to make employees feel more secure.

According to Lam, workers who are temporarily absent from work or isolated because of Covid-19 will be paid wages by enterprises as agreed with the employees. The lowest payment made will be the regional minimum wage. The union will also support workers who are infected or have to leave work or be quarantine with a maximum one-time payment of VND3 million ($130).

Pregnant and nursing employees in difficult circumstances will receive an additional VND500,000 one-time payment and other support, he said.

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