No regrets: leaving HCMC a wise decision, migrants say

By Staff reporters   March 19, 2022 | 04:30 pm PT
No regrets: leaving HCMC a wise decision, migrants say
Nguyen Thi Quyen works at a garment factory near her home in Ben Tre Province in the Mekong Delta, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam
Ignoring exhortations to stay back, many migrant workers left HCMC for their hometowns as the Covid-19 pandemic robbed their livelihoods. Today, many say they made the right decision.

As the clock strikes 6 in the morning, Nguyen Thi Quyen, 38, wakes her children up.

After having breakfast together, she takes the kids, aged nine and five, to school. Then she goes to work at a factory around one kilometer away.

"I made the right decision, leaving the city and returning home."

Quyen and her husband left their hometown in Thanh Phu District of Ben Tre Province in the Mekong Delta for Ho Chi Minh City 14 years ago.

She worked for a shoe company while he made a living as a driver. Their two kids were born in HCMC, but their salaries were never enough to raise the children in the southern metropolis and they had to send them back to Ben Tre, where they lived with Quyen's mother.

Last year, when HCMC became the epicenter of Vietnam's fourth Covid-19 wave, she was worried if she or her husband would die in the city, orphaning their children. She decided to quit the job that gave her an income of VND9 million ($393) per month and return home.

Early October last year, when the fourth wave was basically under control, Quyen got a job at a garment factory near her home in Hoa Loi Commune, Thanh Phu District.

Today she is "happy" even with a much lower salary of VND5 million a month because her life is now stable and she can live with her children and take care of them every day. Her husband is still in HCMC.

Le Phuc Ngoan, 23, also left HCMC last year, fearing Covid-19 impacts.

Three years ago, Ngoan, a resident of the delta's Can Tho City, had found a job with a factory in the Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone in HCMC's District 7.

He was paid VND10 million per month. He worked four days every week, but had to take night shifts.

"I had to trade my health to earn that high salary, but even then, the cost of living in HCMC was too high."

Despite this, it was not until the Covid-19 outbreak became "too complicated" that he decided to get back home.

Not long after he returned, Ngoan found a job at the Hung Phu 2B Industrial Park in Can Tho.

Every day, he drives 30 minutes to work and does not have to pay any rent. With a salary of VND7 million per month, he can even save something and support his parents, thanks to cheaper living costs in Can Tho.

When the Covid-19 outbreak was brought under control across HCMC and neighboring provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, all localities that are home to major industrial hubs and hit hardest by the fourth wave, social distancing measures were eased in early October and tens of thousands of migrant workers decided to return to their hometowns.

In most cases, the returnees explained they had run out of money after losing their jobs due to the outbreak and that home was their safest bet. They were afraid that yet another outbreak could happen with restrictions loosened, which would mean that they would once again be stuck in their small rented rooms under strict social distancing with zero income and greater fear of the pandemic.

According to the General Statistics Office, about 1.3 million migrant workers left for their hometown, and 30 percent of them were from the Mekong Delta.

Mekong Delta provinces are yet to come up with complete data on the number of people that have returned and chosen to stay, but cases like Quyen and Ngoan are not rare. Many workers have made the same choice.

Preliminary statistics compiled in Ben Tre Province show that almost 20,000 people had returned to the province and 6,000 have decided to stay, said Nguyen Van Chuong, an official with the provincial labor department.

Pham Thien Nghia, chairman of Dong Thap Province, said that of an estimated 75,000 returnees, 25,000 want to stay back and local businesses are in need of more than 30,000 workers in total.

Vu Minh Tien, director of the Hanoi-based Institute for Workers and Trade Unions, said that in recent years, businesses have had the tendency to move factories from big cities to provinces to enjoy incentives offered to investors by those localities.

After the fourth Covid-19 wave, with a large number of migrant workers returning home, the trend has grown even stronger.

Tien said that in most cases, workers don't have to pay rent when they work in their hometowns. In their own houses, they will also spend less on electricity and water compared to rented apartments in the city.

At the same time, they can stay with their children or have relatives to take care of them when they work overtime instead of having to spend extra sum to hire babysitters as in big cities, he added.

According to the living wage survey conducted by the Labor Relations Research Center in 2016 and the Consumer Price Index from 2016 to 2021, the minimum living wage in HCMC in 2021 was VND7.56 million per month, while it was almost half that at around VND4.7 million in some provinces like Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta and Thai Binh in the north.

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