Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

By Ngoc Thanh, Hong Chieu   February 20, 2022 | 02:00 am PT
Right in the capital, thousands of workers from northern Vietnam survive in tiny apartments as living costs eat up their savings.
Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

Hau Duong, Chua and Bau villages in Hanoi's Dong Anh District, home to the 300-hectare Thang Long Industrial Park, houses tens of thousands of migrants from northern Vietnam.

Most businesses in the park operate in the electric, computing and vehicle component industries.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

Each apartment spans around 10-15 square meters, with rent of VND500,000-1.5 million ($22-66). Apart from a bed of wood, workers are tasked with purchasing any other household items themselves.

Around 70 percent of workers in Vietnam are currently renting similar apartments, with each person allocated under three square meters of living space. With an average monthly income of VND4 million-6 million, most cannot buy a house. Combined with other costs like utilities and raising children, many workers don't have savings and have no other option but to survive in these conditions.

Vietnamese law dictates a minimum of eight square meters of living space for a person to register their place of residence. Workers usually have less than half.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

An, a worker from Thai Nguyen watches content on his phone to entertain himself inside his apartment.

An's room spans around 10 square meters with rent of VND550,000. It is large enough for a bed, a small wardrobe and items to cook, plus a space to park a motorbike, his most valuable possession.

"I think it's cheap," said An, 35, indicating his 'home' for the past six years. He said he feels much more comfortable here compared to other places thanks to a line of trees in front of his porch.

The entire neighborhood comprises eight rooms and two public bathrooms. Five of the rooms are currently occupied, while the other three remain empty after their tenants, also factory workers, returned to their hometowns in September last year amid Covid lockdown.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

In the room next to An's, Phung Van Thuy, 30, gathers his belongings to move to another room in the same neighborhood so the landlord could do maintenance. It's already past 6 p.m. and Thuy's wife has yet to return home, while their 18-month-old son sits on the bed to entertain himself. Thuy and his wife got married in 2018.

The family pays a rent of VND500,000. To care for their son, they decided to take jobs with alternative shifts, with Thuy working at a laundromat for VND6 million a month.

Having spent decades as workers, the couple still haven't decided to switch careers, saying that if they stay healthy, working would do.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

A line of children's clothes strung on a porch.

Statistics in 2019 revealed 40 percent of workers have to send their children back to the countryside to be looked after by family members, while around 22 percent send them to nurseries and kindergartens. Workers often don't have enough time to take care of their children due to constant overtime.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

Hai, 32, who works in car component manufacturing, assists his son with online studying. Their apartment spans around 25 square meters and costs VND1.1 million a month. Their family has five members: the parents, their two children and a grandmother.

Hai said he hasn't planned to return to his hometown despite the prevalence of industrial parks there since he has already grown used to his current job after spending decades there. His salary is stable, and his children are studying in Hanoi anyway, he explained.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

Duong Thi Quynh, 31, who works at a company that manufactures electric motors, cooks a meal for her husband who just recovered from Covid-19. Their child is currently in self-isolation.

They had planned to return to their hometown in Nam Dinh for Tet, but her husband's positive Covid test made them stay.

Their apartment is on the first floor for VND600,000 a month. Rooms on the second floor have less access to public bathrooms and are a bit cheaper at VND500,000.

When Quynh fries fish etc., she must open the window and turn on the fan to dissipate the smell.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

Having spent 11 years as a factory worker, Quynh has switched apartments thrice in Hau Duong Village. The places she formerly stayed were either flooded during rainy season, or demolished by the landlord.

"This place is the finest I could get. It's high enough off the ground so the rainwater cannot come in. Our landlords are also sympathetic to us workers, so they have not raised utility costs for many years, and even reduced the rent during the pandemic," Quynh described her "home" of six years.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

A typical meal for a pair of workers includes simply boiled cabbage and pork. The cabbages are purchased at a local market for VND8,000, and Quynh splits them into two meals.

Seeing Quynh's husband being treated for Covid-19, the landlords came by near Tet to give the family some banh chung (sticky rice cake) and gio lua (pork paste), typical Tet foods.

Hanoi workers living in subpar conditions

Like Thuy's family, Quynh's doesn't know what to do next should they lose their jobs.

"We take what we can get," she said.

As more industrial parks are introduced and expanded, there will certainly be more work in future. But in the plans for developing these industrial parks, there is no mention of how to ensure good homes for workers. Current policies have also not encouraged the construction of more accommodation.

Experts have proposed authorities survey worker demands to generate plans for housing construction and selling houses to workers at affordable prices, along with other infrastructure like nurseries for their children within.

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