HCMC migrant workers in pain as Covid-19 kills livelihoods

By Le Tuyet   July 30, 2021 | 06:31 pm PT
Kim Chi could not walk anymore, though her rented apartment was just a few steps away. The text message from her husband had kicked her in the stomach.

The 45-year-old woman was still on probation at a private garment firm in HCMC’s Go Vap District when the fourth Covid-19 wave hit Vietnam late April.

A month later, the wave reached HCMC and Go Vap emerged as the biggest hotspot. As the entire district was put under the government’s Directive 16, the most stringent social distancing rule in Vietnam, the company decided to let go all employees who were on probation.

Chi left the factory with just VND1.4 million ($60) in hand.

As she was about to call her husband, who was working as a guard at a nearby store, to tell him the bad news, he texted her: "I will not go to work starting tomorrow." The store he was working for had just been ordered to stop operations following the social distancing rule.

Chi recalled that she sat down halfway and could not keep walking.

Seven years ago, Chi and her husband had left their hometown in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang for HCMC.

For several years, she had worked at the Hue Phong Leather Shoes Co. Ltd in Go Vap until the pandemic changed everything in 2020.

With almost all orders cut, the company had to let go nearly 5,000 workers, including Chi, last July.

For the five months after, she applied to various firms but was repeatedly refused as she "was not young enough."

At the end of last year, with a reference from her landlord, Chi got a job to sew backpacks at home. She had earned around VND2 million each month.

Kim Chi prepares dinner for her family at a rented apartment in Go Vap District, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Kim Chi prepares dinner for her family at a rented apartment in Go Vap District, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

In March this year, the garment factory close to her rented apartment started recruiting workers. Chi had been placed on probation for two months, after which she was promised an official contract with a pay of VND5 million per month.

The pandemic had disrupted her life again.

For almost two months now, her family of three has relied on VND3 million, which is all they had after she and her husband both lost their jobs. The landlord has agreed that they can pay their rent later and they have mainly relied on donations from different sources for food.

But the donations have been limited and last week, Chi had to beg for some food from a neighbor to feed her child.

A small consolation for her now is that the store where her husband used to work is about to reopen and he could go to work again next month.

A native of the central province of Nghe An, Vi Thi Trang, 26, has been unemployed since last year.

She used to work at a branch of the Asia Garment Co. Ltd, but after the company failed to pay salaries and social insurance for workers, she had quit.

Since then, Trang has applied to many companies but got rejected everywhere because she was having a child less than 12 months old.

Vi Thi Trang and her daughter, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Vi Thi Trang and her daughter, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

More than a month ago, her husband lost his job as a garment worker after the pandemic caused the company to lose orders. Since it was a small-scale, private company that does not cover social insurance for employees, Trang’s husband was laid off without any compensation.

Last week, using all of their meager savings, Trang bought 10 kilos of rice, 50 eggs and some vegetables.

"These days, only our little daughter has three meals per day. We have two, at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m."

Last week, it was recommended to Trang that she registers for a trip back to Nghe An following the province’s policy to bring back citizens stuck because of the Covid-19 outbreak in HCMC, which has become the epicenter of pandemic.

Trang said her family will rely on her parents for a while and will get back to HCMC once the outbreak is over to look for jobs.

According to the HCMC Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, the new wave has hit small and medium companies particularly hard.

Around 60,000 workers of such firms have lost their jobs.

Last month, the city approved a VND886-billion financial package for those affected by the pandemic.

As of July 23, HCMC’s Social Security agency had approved payments for more than 73,000 employees who lost their jobs after their companies had to downsize or suspend operations under Covid-19 impacts.

However, more than 30,000 files have been rejected as they failed to meet certain requirements for accessing the package, said Phan Van Men, the agency’s director.

Ho Xuan Lam, deputy head of the HCMC Labor Federation, said the federation has so far spent VND11 billion supporting more than 83,700 people, including those who have got Covid-19 or been sent to quarantine camps after coming into contact with patients.

HCMC has more than 1.6 million factory workers and so far in this wave, more than 4,500 have been infected with the novel coronavirus and nearly 14,000 have been quarantined after coming into contact with patients.

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