Saturday should be a holiday, Vietnamese workers assert

By Doan Loan   October 6, 2019 | 05:00 am PT
Saturday should be a holiday, Vietnamese workers assert
Bui Van Thuoc wears a gas mask while working at a factory to produce gaskets in Vietnam's northern city of Hai Phong. Photo by VnExpress/Doan Loan.
Many Vietnamese workers want Saturday added to their weekend break to remain productive and spend more time with their families.

Inside a factory producing gaskets used in making mattresses in the northern city of Hai Phong, Bui Van Thuoc has to wear a gas mask while working.

Thuoc, 42, usually works 24-25 days a month. He is allowed to be off every Sunday, and one Saturday a month. Including the compensation for harmful working conditions, he gets a monthly salary of VND7-8 million (over $300).

Because this is a Japanese-owned factory, workers have to work at full productivity every day and sometimes they have to take overtime shifts, he said.

"For the past 10 years, the company has allowed every employee to break one Saturday in a month, but I want to have at least one more Saturday off per month," he said, adding that his colleagues have the same demand because they need to rest more, given the hard work they do in an environment that is quite risky for health.

At another Japanese invested company, Synztec Vietnam, also in Hai Phong, Nguyen Thuy Linh said she gets two Saturday breaks every month and a salary of more than VND5 million.

Linh, 25, said taking two Saturdays off has allowed her to have more time for herself and spend with friends.

"Some friends of mine, who are also workers at factories, work seven days a week and earn VND8-9 million per month but they say that it makes them really tired. I accept the lower salary, as long as I can get enough breaks," she said.

Many of Linh’s colleagues, especially women, said they also prefer more days off so that they can spend more time with their families and children.

Since 2013, Synztec Vietnam has granted more than 900 of its workers two Saturday breaks each month, which means they work 44 hours per week.

In its proposed amendments to the Labor Code, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor has suggested letting workers in the business sector to work 44 hours per week instead of 48 hours as currently regulated.

In reality, several companies have made their own rules and reduced the working time for their workers in recent years.

Pham Thi Hang, chair of the labor union at the Hai Phong Economic Zone Authority, said that among 186 companies joining the union, 153 have let almost 100,000 workers take a break at least one Saturday per month.

"Some foreign companies have said they are willing to let employees have more break days if the law says so. Some even said the law should just regulate Saturday as a day off because they have already applied the policy on their own."

Nguyen Thi Thu, head of human resource at Synztec Vietnam, said up to 90 percent of employees in the company are women and they all have a high demand for getting adequate rest and having time with families.

She also observed that employees have become more committed since the company began allowing them two Saturdays off each month.

With the application of advanced technologies, the company has been able to use less workers and it has been proven by now that more breaks for employees does not affect the company’s overall productivity, she said.

Masashi Kawasaki, CEO of Nichias Hai Phong Co. Ltd, said after his company let workers take one Saturday off every month recently, less and less workers have asked to quit their jobs, which is a good thing because recruiting employees is becoming more difficult in Hai Phong.

"In the future, if the law requires us to cut working time for laborers, we will follow," he said.

But he admitted that giving more breaks for employees also means lower revenue for the company and to make up for that, his firm will have to improve its production chain to ensure productivity.

More time off, more problems

Not all businesses are happy with the solution of cutting working hours.

At a meeting held in Hanoi last month, many businesses said they disagreed with a proposal to cut weekly working hours to 44, saying the move would create more problems than solve existing ones.

Dao Thi Thu Huyen, a representative of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Vietnam, said Vietnam will remain attractive to foreign investors only if its workers are skillful and hardworking. If the working time per week is cut, investors could move to other markets, she said.

Tran Thi Lan Anh, director of the Bureau for Employers' Activities under the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), said most countries with 40-44 hour working weeks are developed ones.

In developing countries that are in "fierce competition" with Vietnam, like Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Philippines and Laos, the legal working time is 48 hours per week.

A VCCI survey of 18 nations, including ten Southeast Asians and other Asians with socio-economic conditions similar to Vietnam found that six had less than 48 working hours per week, 11 had 48 hours per week and South Korea had it at 52.

Lawmakers had said earlier this month that they want the business sector's working week to be reduced from 48 to 44 hours to match government departments.

They argued that it is unfair that employees in the business sector work 48 hours a week while their counterparts in government only work 40.

In an online survey done last month by the labor confederation, 81 percent of around 1,300 workers voted to cut the working time to 44 hours.

Vietnamese lawmakers are set to discuss the issue and vote on the amended Labor Code on October 21.

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