No jobs, no social insurance: Workers left in the lurch by employers

By Le Tuyet   March 25, 2021 | 08:30 am GMT+7
Millions of workers lost their jobs to Covid-19, but many do not even get unemployment benefits since their former employers failed to pay social insurance premiums.

In a small rented room in HCMC's District 12, Ha Thi To Quyen, 35, an employee of Asia Garment Company Limited, holds her second son in her arms.

She is one of 400 workers who have been unable to receive maternity, health and unemployment benefits since their company failed to pay VND8.3 billion ($359,000) worth of social insurance premiums since August 2018.

The premiums are in fact deducted from workers' salaries to fund their pensions after retirement, pay their salaries when they are sick or take paternity or maternity leave and unemployment benefits.

Ha Thi To Quyen with her two children inside her rented room in HCMCs District 12, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Ha Thi To Quyen with her two children inside her rented room in HCMC's District 12, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Quyen started working at the company in November 2018 with a monthly salary of VND10 million ($432).

Her family faced a financial crisis after Quyen gave birth to her second child as her husband was diagnosed with a serious illness that required up to VND20 million to treat.

Two months after she delivered, she was diagnosed with cervicitis and doctors said she had to be hospitalized for treatment.

But without health insurance and fearing the high treatment cost, she bought medicines and treated herself at home.

After her six-month maternity leave ended she went back to work, but her company failed to pay her salary.

At the end of February she and hundreds of other workers went on strike demanding payment of salaries and social insurance premium dues, but in vain.

Quyen and many others then quit, but do not receive unemployment benefits.

Her family's debts are piling up. To cover her delivery expenses and take care of her sick husband, she had to borrow from loan sharks at exorbitant interest rates. They owe nearly VND20 million and pay VND3 million a month in interest alone.

Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh, 47, a worker at South Korean-owned garment company Sunkyoung Vina in Binh Duong Province, owes her landlord four months’ house rent. She and her two children now depend financially on their relatives.

Workers gather in front of Sunkyoung Vina Company in Binh Duong Province to demand benefits, March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Workers gather in front of Sunkyoung Vina Company in Binh Duong Province to demand payment of their social insurance back premiums in March 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet.

Her company had failed to pay VND9.1 billion in social insurance premiums. Then, last year, it was sold to a new owner, but the social insurance back payments were not made, leaving its 500 workers in hot water. Thanh lost her job.

"My family of three had only VND1.6 million to celebrate Tet," she said.

Quyen and Thanh are two of thousands of workers who have been left miserable by employers who failed to meet their social insurance obligations though this is a criminal offense, and violators face a fine of VND500 million-1 billion or two to seven years in jail.

HCMC, Dong Nai and Binh Duong, major industrial hubs in southern Vietnam with a bunch of industrial parks and foreign-invested firms, have thousands of companies guilty of this crime.

As of late January, HCMC reported 664 businesses owing over VND1 trillion in social insurance contributions of nearly 30,000 workers, while companies in Binh Duong owed nearly 900 billion as of late last year.

Nguyen Thanh Do, head of Law and Policy Department under HCMC Labor Confederation, said it would provide legal support for affected workers who wish to file lawsuits against their companies.

Nguyen Quoc Thanh, Deputy Director of HCMC Social Security, said that it has reported 79 companies guilty of the crime to the police for criminal investigation as of early this month. The agency is scheduled to inspect 366 businesses which have been late in paying workers' social insurance premiums this year, Thanh said.

The social security fund has itself been in a crisis for years as a result of this.

 
 
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