Saigon workers tighten their belts as coronavirus swallows jobs

By Lam Son   June 30, 2020 | 08:46 pm PT
With a preference for vegetables, boiled eggs and tofu, Nga, having had her wallet hurt by the Covid-19 pandemic, now spends less than $1 on a meal.

Vi Thi Nga, 33, employed at Hue Phong Leather Shoes Company in Saigon's Go Vap District, resides on Pham Van Chieu Street. Late May, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the company laid off 2,220 employees.

With seven years of experience, Nga earns a basic VND5.4 million ($233) monthly salary and is lucky not to have been sacked. However, her hours were cut, severely affecting her income.

Worried about her husband’s pandemic prospects, she has had to considerably tightened her belt.

"I don’t know how long these difficulties will last, so try to I stay on budget and take care of my daughter," she affirmed.

Nga and her husband earn around VND10 million ($431) per month, spending VND2 million ($86) to rent their apartment, and another VND2 million on kindergarten fees. Together, they have agreed not to spend more than VND1.2 million ($52) on food, translating into VND20,000 ($0.86) a meal.

Nga and her daughter at home. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Son.

Nga and her daughter in their kitchen. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Son.

Mealtime for the three-member family consists of a VND5,000 ($0.2) bunch of morning glory or spinach, VND5,000 ($0.2) of fried tofu with lemongrass, and two eggs costing around VND5,000. Sometimes, Nga adds VND20,000 ($0.86) of beef.

"The rest of the money I spend on milk, a daily stipend, saving some in case we fall sick," the mother explained.

The duo has overcome many challenges to have a daughter, who is now 18 months old and weighs only eight kilograms. The girl, difficult to feed, costs her parents more at kindergarten.

Fortunately, their landlord offered them a 50 percent discount on rent for the past few months, supplying them instant noodles and fish sauce, which has helped slightly lessen their financial burden.

Phung Thi Tinh, 31, from central Nghe An Province, is not as lucky as Nga. She was one of nearly 2,800 workers that lost their jobs in a mass layoff at footwear maker Pouyuen Vietnam Co. Ltd. on June 20.

With six years of experience, Tinh was notified she would be given VND38 million ($1,641) in severance pay, minus 10 percent personal income tax.

The single mother of a hyperactive son spends VND2 million ($86.4) per month on medicine, alongside food, rent, and other utilities, meaning whatever money she got out won’t last long.

About a month before losing her job, Tinh had both her hours and income lessen to VND5 million ($216) due to a fall in orders. To earn more, she found work at a restaurant on Sundays and earned VND30,000 ($1.3) hourly, while some of her colleagues had to borrow money at an interest rate of 10 percent.

Tinh, after applying to work at a supermarket, decided to help her friend sell products online from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Tinh and her son in their apartment in Saigons Binh Tan District. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Son.

Tinh and her son in their apartment in Saigon's Binh Tan District. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Son.

Each day, Tinh travels countless distances in search of work, subsisting on instant noodles for lunch or dinner. She still hopes Pouyuen will resume production and recruit its former employees, since "the management board had promised to prioritize those who had worked in the company before."

Both Tinh and Nga are among 7.8 million workers who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to Covid-19, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs stated on June 29.

The Vietnam General Confederation of Labor said 84 percent of companies (of 132,000 surveyed) have faced difficulties amid the pandemic, with 67 percent resorting to layoffs and reduced working hours, or asking workers to take turns staying home, or halt work with less or no payment.

The confederation has earmarked VND250-500 billion ($10.8-21.6 million) to support 500,000 workers severely affected by Covid-19.

The government has announced a further VND62 trillion ($2.7 billion) to benefit 20 million people affected by the pandemic, including workers. If they prove eligible, workers could receive VND1-1.8 million ($43.2-77.8) monthly over a maximum three month period.

But a report from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs in mid-June showed only 418 workers have received the money. Many said they have trouble accessing the funds due to the large volume of paperwork needed to prove they lost their income due to the pandemic.

Authorities have since considered changing the process so workers could access support more easily.

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