Pandemic wipes out demand for house, office cleaners

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenJune 18, 2021 | 05:01 am PT
Pandemic wipes out demand for house, office cleaners
A house helper cleans the kitchen. Photo by Shutterstock/ucchie79.
Helpers and cleaners have become more vulnerable to job loss than other domestic workers as Covid-19 continues to plague the country.

Huyen Kim, who works for a company that cleans office buildings in HCMC, is in dire need for a job.

She was furloughed by the company in late May as the fourth Covid-19 wave began to spread, and told she would be taken back in July if the outbreak is better controlled. But she is worried sick since this is the worst Covid situation Vietnam has faced so far.

"I asked my nephew to help me find a housemaid or babysitter job online, but have had no luck so far," the 43-year-old woman said.

"I am waiting for the day I can start working again. All I can do now is wait for the outbreak to die down."

She used to earn around VND8 million ($345) a month cleaning five offices every day in the city’s downtown.

Kim is by no means the only domestic helper to be severely hit by the new wave, which has stripped many of their livelihoods.

A study published Tuesday by the International Labor Organization (ILO) said cleaners and helpers have suffered job losses at nearly three times the rate as other workers. It said in the second quarter of 2020 they suffered a 17 percent jobless rate compared to 6.1 percent for other workers like drivers, cooks, security guards, and others.

For people from rural areas, getting stuck in metropolises amid the pandemic is a luxury they cannot afford, especially when many neighborhoods in Hanoi and HCMC have been placed under lockdown.

Pham Thu Hang, 40, who works in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, moved back to her hometown in the northern Phu Tho Province in late May to work as a farmer when the capital saw Covid resurge.

"I need to save money to support my children in Phu Tho, so the idea of getting stuck in Hanoi for months scared me," she said.

She is reconciled to alternating between the two places after having faced such upheavals before. In January too she had to move back to Phu Tho soon after the third wave began, and only returned to Hanoi to work in March after it died down.

"I'm now used to the fact that my job is unstable. The only thing that saddens me is that I can put less food on the table for my children."

She used to earn a monthly income of around VND7 million ($302) in Hanoi. She admitted she is afraid of getting infected and so "fleeing to her hometown is the best bet."

With the outbreak continuing to rage, HCMC authorities extended social distancing by two more weeks after imposing the first one on May 31.

Since the fourth wave began on April 28 the southern city has become the third hardest hit locality with 1,346 cases as of Friday evening. Hanoi was in fourth place with 464.

Some families have taken extra precautions and decided to stop hiring cleaners after the number of daily cases continues to rise.

Following the Ministry of Health’s preventive guidelines, Phi Thi Thu Thao has stopped hiring helpers from a service company after HCMC mandated social distancing.

"Since the company my husband and I work for allows us to work from home, we have been taking turns caring for our two-year-old son and doing household chores," the 33-year-old accountant said.

In the same report the ILO said the working hours of cleaners and helpers fell by 24.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019. As a result, wages plummeted by 26.2 percent.

Some commercial cleaning services are struggling to survive.

Nguyen Truong Son, a marketing staff for, a home and office cleaning services company with offices in Hanoi and HCMC, said revenues had fallen by 50-60 percent since the Lunar New Year [in mid-February].

Besides, the demand for office cleaning services had also declined since people have started working from home.

"The company offers disinfection services along with cleaning at a cheap price to attract and retain customers. But the promotion is not effective since not many people want a combination of those services," he said.

Cleaners like Kim are desperate to go back to work and make a living.

"I just hope the outbreak will be under control soon so that things can go back to the pre-pandemic era," she said wistfully.

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