600 workers go on strike in Saigon after S Korean director disappears owing wages

By Duy Tran   January 12, 2018 | 03:49 pm GMT+7
600 workers go on strike in Saigon after S Korean director disappears owing wages
Workers go on strike at Nam Phuong Garment Company in Saigon demanding their unpaid wages. Photo by Phu Thanh

The company owes nearly $1.35 million in wages and social insurance contributions, according to sources.

More than 600 workers at a garment firm in Saigon have been on strike for more than a week demanding their wages after their South Korean employer disappeared.

The workers at Nam Phuong Company in Cu Chi District to the north of the city have met with local officials but have refused to go back to work until they are paid in full.

Cam Giang, a 25-year-old worker, said she and her coworkers are still waiting for their December salaries, which amount to more than VND7 million ($308) each.

She said the company’s director “had disappeared” for more than two weeks and there were signs that assets had been seized.

The Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest festival, is a month away, and while many workers across the country are eagerly expecting the holiday bonus, Giang said she felt “miserable”.

“I am a single mother with a 9-month-old baby. My landlord has already asked me to leave and the nursery school said they will no longer be able to look after my baby unless I pay,” she said.

She said the lack of support is not what she deserved after working hard for the company for eight years. She worked 73 extra hours in December alone.

Many of her colleagues, most of them poor migrants, are sharing the same plight.

Some married couples who work at the company together have been taking their children to the factory with them to avoid extra financial pressure.

Workers wait outside Nam Phuong Garment Company in Saigon, hoping to receive their unpaid wages. Photo by Cam Giang

Workers wait outside Nam Phuong Garment Company in Saigon, hoping to receive their unpaid wages. Photo by Cam Giang

Phu My Thanh, another worker, said the company had issued a notice promising to pay the December salary and give them a year-end bonus if they returned to work. “But we do not believe it,” he said.

Vuong Duy Lam, a junior manager, said company leaders had not shown up for days.

He estimated that the company now owes more than 4 billion ($176,140) in wages.

A source from the city’s Social Insurance Department said the company also owes VND26.6 billion ($1.17 million) in insurance contributions, making it the second biggest debtor in the city.

Many female workers have not received pregnancy support from the insurer because of the huge debt.

According to the HCMC Labor Federation, at least five businesses still owe wages and social insurance contributions from 2017 to around 900 workers, who are unlikely to be able to celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year (Tet), which starts on February 16, due to empty pockets.

Another 200 businesses have claimed they had a difficult year and would have problems paying holiday bonuses, it said.

The Fenix Knitting Company in Thu Duc District to the city's northeast also declared bankruptcy last November, owing VND13.5 billion (nearly $600,000) in wages and social insurance contributions to more than 200 workers.

“While other people are eagerly waiting their Tet bonuses, we are looking for jobs,” said a worker only identified as Hung.

Vietnam’s economy grew by 6.8 percent in 2017, the highest rate in a decade, but that hasn't benefited everyone.

Vietnam raised its minimum wage by around 7.3 percent last year to VND3.75 million per month, the lowest nominal jump on record. The government has approved another increase of 6.5 percent from mid-2018.

Last year, a third of the 2,600 workers surveyed by Vietnam’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions said their income was barely enough to live on, while 12 percent said their wages simply did not cover basic expenses, forcing them to work extra hours.