Year-end layoffs force frugal life on thousands of factory workers

By Le Tuyet   November 17, 2022 | 07:47 pm PT
"Have you found a new job?" For the last 10 days, this has invariably been the question on every worker’s lips at a residential block in HCMC's District 12.

Located on Le Van Khuong Street, the block has over 40 rooms and the majority of tenants are workers of garment factory Sun Kyoung Vietnam, which is 100% South Korean-owned.

Early November this month, the company declared that it will cease operations because partners had suddenly canceled all orders. This meant the dismissal of around 830 employees. Ten days after it made the closure announcement, the company made its final payments to the workers.

"I received a total of VND12 million ($484.26) as October salary and financial support," said Chau Thi Ha, a 32-year-old Tra Vinh native who worked at the factory for more than two years.

Chau Thi Ha cooks dinner, her familys one meal of the day, at her rented room in HCMCs District 12. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Chau Thi Ha cooks dinner, her family's one meal of the day, at a rented room in HCMC's District 12. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Since her dismissal, Ha has been scrimping like crazy. After spending over VND2 million per month on rent, she has been very careful about spending in case she could not find another job and had to rely on their meager savings to stay afloat.

Her husband, Le Tran Vinh, has also been let go after his factory didn't receive any new order for two months. He had worked for the Rafi Plastic Company in HCMC's District 12 for more than two years. The factory began to lay off staff in September.

He was given a 15-day notice of temporary leave while awaiting a new notice. Despite three or four "half-month waits," he was not summoned back to work. Then he quit because he could not take the tension and frustration any longer. Unlike his wife, he did not receive any financial aid from his employer.

Her family now only eats one meal a day and their dinner consists mainly of rice. They also go to bed late to avoid getting hungry too early the next morning and eat instant noodles if they are too famished.

Thousands of workers are caught in circumstances similar to Ha and her husband.

Nguyen Thi Lai, 23, started working as a product tester for a local textile company recently after losing her job at Sun Kyoung Vietnam.

Her husband, Duong Van Bau, a 37-year-old construction worker, was laid off by the company due to a lack of work.

Bau said that he has never found getting a job so difficult for more than a decade. He has called everyone he knows, but the contractors are either out of work or already have enough workers.

Their family had returned to Kien Giang Province after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and moved back to Saigon six months ago, leaving two children in the countryside with relatives. They had been sending VND5-6 million each month for the children’s upkeep.

If Bau’s unemployment persists, the family cannot subsist for more than a month on his wife's seasonal salary of VND5 million.

"I'll try holding out for a month and see how things go," he said. "If nothing happens, our best bet is to go back to our hometown."

Duong Van Bau and his wife in their rented room. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Duong Van Bau and his wife in their rented room. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Better than winning the jackpot

Tran Thi Dien, 49, who had worked at Sun Kyoung for three years after moving to the city from Bac Lieu Province more than 20 years ago, said landing a good job at this time would be "more joyous than winning the jackpot."

After being laid off, she was hired as a seasonal worker by a private sewing company. Her job was to add buttons to children's clothing for VND280 per finished item.

She only took small breaks to drink water, but could only finish 100 pieces on her first day. She was paid VND28,000.

"I don't know how I can survive with such a meager income," she lamented, adding that she resigned from that job because she couldn't keep up.

Two days ago, she got a job as an assistant at a jeans factory. She was so excited about landing a job that she neglected to ask her boss how much she would be paid.

"I never thought I'd see the day when so many of my neighbors are jobless," Dien said.

Hundreds of employees of Taiwanese shoemaker Ty Hung are living in despair on Ho Hoc Lam Street in Binh Tan District, more than 20 kilometers from the Sun Kyoung Vietnam garment factory. Many of them lost their jobs unexpectedly.

Because it does not have enough orders, Ty Hung will terminate contracts with about 1,200 employees on December 1. Many of the employees are planning to look for new work at nearby factories in HCMC or back in their hometowns.

Nguyen Thi Kim Lanh, 38, said she and her 18-year-old moved to the city five months ago so the latter could go to school. She got a job with Ty Hung for a monthly salary of a little more than VND5 million. She had to make do with this to make ends meet and raise her child.

She planned to stay at the factory for at least four years until her daughter finished high school, but the company recently announced layoffs.

When the single mother and her daughter moved to the city, they chose to stay at a residential block near the factory for easy access to work.

But her chances of finding work at local factories have diminished as thousands of workers lost their jobs at the same time.

Nguyen Van Lam, deputy director of HCMC's Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, remarked recently that the ongoing global economic decline, particularly in several European countries, has hurt many footwear and textile companies.

Some factories in HCMC are laying off workers, while many others are reducing their employees' working hours to avoid paying overtime, he said.

Over 240,000 workers, mainly in the garment, footwear and wood processing industries, are underemployed now as factories do not have enough orders.

Workers sign up for unemployment support at the HCMC Employment Service Center. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Workers sign up for unemployment support at the HCMC Employment Service Center. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Nearly 11,000 people collected unemployment benefits last month, up 27% year-on-year.

HCMC has around 249,000 firms with nearly 2.5 million employees.

Tran Doan Trung, vice chairman of the HCMC Labor Confederation, said the city has urged trade unions at all levels to study the situation of laid-off workers so that a support plan can be developed.

Ha and her husband have been driving each other around for almost a week, looking for another job.

"If we don't get a new job, how are we going to make it through until Lunar New Year with only VND10 million?" a worried Ha wondered.

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