Low pay drives civil servants away in droves

By Thu Hang, Le Tuyet   August 10, 2022 | 08:45 pm PT
Low pay drives civil servants away in droves
State workers at the People's Committee office of Thu Duc in Ho Chi Minh City, August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Civil servants are leaving their jobs in droves, unable to make ends meet on their meager salaries, knowing their abilities can guarantee jobs with higher incomes elsewhere.

Despite his relatively senior position as a manager, Tran Cong Hoang, 32, quit his job at a state agency in Ho Chi Minh City last year after six years.

After finishing college in 2012, Hoang was sent to Australia for a postgraduate course on a government scholarship with the condition that he has to return to Vietnam and work for state agencies for at least five years after finishing it.

Hoang returned to Vietnam in 2016 and began working for a state department in the city for a salary of VND3 million ($130) per month. Five years later his salary was increased to around VND5.5 million per month plus an allowance for managers. The salary could not even cover the monthly expenses incurred for his newborn, Hoang said.

Hoang is among 2,188 employees who quit working at state agencies in HCMC last year, according to the municipal Home Affairs Department.

The figure was even higher in 2020 at 2,400. From 2017 until last year, the city had lost more than 2,000 state employees a year on average. In most cases, they cited low income, unattractive working environment and the lack of opportunity for career development as the main reasons for quitting.

Ngo Truong Giang, 35, who quit his job with a HCMC department last year, said the salary he got "was not even enough for a single man."

His unit had four members and was in charge of making the public aware of projects that have been approved by the authorities. As a bachelor, he was paid VND3 million per month.

"There was not enough work for the four of us to cover. I just needed one week to finish all the work given to me for a month."

Giang said the salary he received was low but it is "commensurate" with the amount of work he had to complete each month.

Leaving the job after four years, Giang said: "If I stayed, I would become inactive, restrain myself from striving and it was an absolute truth that I could never take care of my family."

Sixteen years ago, Trinh Tan Phuong, 45, a geodesy graduate, began working at a commune office in Binh Chanh District for just VND680,000 per month.

After 12 years, he earns VND6 million per month, which is one-third of the salary his wife earns as a senior factory employee at the Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone in District 7.

Having two children, Phuong and his wife rarely eat out and with the ongoing inflation, they are calculating every penny they spend "so that we will not have to borrow from anyone."

Tran Ngoc Hieu, 38, deputy chair of the women’s union of a ward in HCMC’s District 4, is paid VND5 million per month and augments her income by selling goods online.

Every day, Hieu uses her lunch break to deliver goods that customers have ordered.

Despite their low salaries, state workers in HCMC wards and communes are given a lot of work, given the city’s high population.

On average, a civil servant in the city serves 346 residents compared to the national figure of 152. The average population of a district in HCMC is 239,000 higher than the national average.

People complete administrative procedures after being guided by civil servants at the Peoples Committee office of HCMCs District 3, August 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

People complete administrative procedures after being guided by civil servants at the People's Committee office of HCMC's District 3, August 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

According to the HCMC Statistics Office, the average monthly income of state workers in the city, including both salary and allowance, has increased by less than VND2 million in the past six years and stayed at nearly VND8.86 million per month at its highest (as of last year).

Le Thi Kim Thuy, deputy chair of HCMC's Labor Union, said one of her acquaintances is a state worker at a ward administration office.

A bachelor's degree holder, he is paid VND7.5 million per month after working for 15 years.

"In order to earn VND10 million per month, he has to take on more jobs, join meetings that last until 9-10 p.m. and work during the weekend," she said.

Dang Thi Kim Hoa, head of the Home Affairs Department in District 11, said the work that civil servants do at ward and commune offices is crucial but their salaries are very low.

Though the city has tried different ways to raise incomes for this group, their salaries have stayed around VND5-6 million per month, which makes it very hard to ask them to stay on and keep working, she said.

Huynh Thanh Nhan, director of HCMC’s Home Affairs, said state agencies have been facing "huge" challenges in attracting and retaining experienced and high-quality staff due to competition from the private sector.

Besides, working in state agencies requires employees to follow different rules and they have the pressure of being disciplined and warned, he added.

Hoang, who'd completed his Master's degree in Australia, found a job with a private corporation after quitting his city government job. His basic salary is three times higher and there are months his income rises to more than VND30 million based on his performance.

"Leaving (a government job) was such a sound decision," he said.

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