Vietnamese workers in Singapore stay strong amid havoc caused by Covid

By Long Nguyen   June 17, 2021 | 06:22 pm PT
With livelihoods hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnamese workers in Singapore grab any opportunity they get and support each other while waiting to return home.

It was a Sunday morning in June when Nguyen Trong Hung, 32, arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport and started his 12-hour shift by cleaning the airport.

"This job helps me earn around $1,400 per month, less than my salary before this pandemic, but I cannot be demanding amid this ordeal," he says. He used to work as a cook at a Chinese restaurant before Covid took away his livelihood.

"After a month of tough measures to contain a coronavirus outbreak my friends earn next to nothing. We have no choice but to try and wait this out."

He is among many Vietnamese in Singapore who have tried to overcome the fallout of the pandemic, which resurfaced in mid-May after an outbreak at the airport, forcing the government to ban eating in restaurants and gatherings of more than two people.

People wearing face masks cross a road amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore May 14, 2021. Photo by Reuters//Caroline Chia.

People wearing face masks cross a road amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore May 14, 2021. Photo by Reuters//Caroline Chia.

After losing jobs and incomes in the last few months, people have grabbed any job they can to survive.

Due to the tough containment measures, eateries have seen a significant drop in the number of customers, causing the many Vietnamese workers in the industry to struggle for a living.

Nguyen Thi Trang, a dishwasher at a restaurant in Bukit Batok, says: "Last year the government supported restaurants amid the Covid-19 social restrictions, so I was not worried. But this year, we get no support. After getting hit by the pandemic for a year, it is really difficult."

With no diners allowed, Trang’s employer has told her to work only two days a week until July, and so the 31-year-old woman has earned almost nothing in the last few weeks.

Hoping to earn a little bit of money, she cooks Vietnamese food and sells it on Facebook.

"I earn less than $2 from each order, but at least it makes me feel I am not useless."

Hung says the cost of living in Singapore is high, and so Vietnamese workers losing their incomes have to grab whatever opportunities they get to survive.

"Besides, if we do not have a job, we will be considered illegal workers. So people must look for a job if they do not want to be expelled."

Hoang Quoc Anh wears a face mask in office, where staff are banned from gathering. Photo courtesy of Hoang Quoc Anh.

Hoang Quoc Anh wears a face mask in office, where staff are banned from gathering. Photo courtesy of Hoang Quoc Anh.

No sweat

Knowing that foreign workers are not allowed to stay in Singapore if they do not have a job, Vietnamese have tried to help each other find employment.

Tran Phuong Trinh, 42, a head hunter, says: "I used to charge Vietnamese workers $3,200 for a job and paperwork, but now I charge them $700. Those without money can pay me later as long as they can stay here legally."

On Facebook groups of Vietnamese living in Singapore, members provide updates on the Covid situation in Singapore to their online friends and exhort each other to strictly follow prevention measures.

Le Hoang Anh, an IT worker, says: "The rules are strict in Singapore. So I am always aware of the need to follow Covid-19 prevention measures."

He says it took him weeks to get used to carrying masks and keeping a distance from people.

Many people have to deal with loneliness.

Hoang Quoc Anh, an account manager at Google, says social restrictions have affected many foreigners who do not live with their families unlike him.

"But I have tried to get used to it and get rid of stress by working out at home and in public parks." He admits he is lucky not to lose his livelihood to coronavirus.

As of Friday morning Singapore has had a total of 62,339 Covid cases and 34 deaths.

The country started to allow gatherings of up to five on June 14, and eased more restrictions in two stages following a steady drop in the number of cases.

If the situation remains under control, a further relaxation, including permitting dining in at eateries, is on the cards on June 21.

"Even as we progressively resume more activities, I urge everyone to remain vigilant," Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force tackling the pandemic, has said.

Many Vietnamese expats are yearning for home after not seeing their loved ones for years.

Trang says, crestfallen: "I hope the pandemic will be over soon so that I can see my husband and children. I have missed their birthdays, their first day at school and many other family events."

Vietnam closed its borders in March last year, and only allows in foreign diplomats, specialists and investors. Special flights are operated to repatriate Vietnamese, but their numbers are limited. Around 75,000 were brought home last year.

Trang, who used to work as a saleswoman, said her contract ended in early 2021, and she had planned to return to Ho Chi Minh City. But, unable to travel, she asked the company in vain for an extension. She quickly found a job at a restaurant as a dishwasher.

Living in a rented house with a Vietnamese friend and chatting online with her family in Vietnam every day, she has twice sent a request to the Vietnamese embassy to be repatriated, but has not received a response.

"At least I can stay here legally with a job; that is a blessing."

She has bought gifts for her family, and is ready to leave for home as soon as the embassy notifies her.

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