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|Vietnamese workers are inching through the vicissitudes of the global pandemic|
Trang, a worker currently residing in Kim Chung commune, Hanoi, said that during the 10 years working at North Thang Long Industrial Zone, she and her husband have never seen their income slashed sharply.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in town, Trang and her husband could barely work, and their family of four had to scrimp and save due to the halved income. Notwithstanding, Trang still finds herself luckier than many others who have been laid off, losing their jobs due to the company’s closure.
“Now as the outbreak has been eased in Vietnam, our salary has become a bit more stable than during peak times, however, our work has yet to return to normal,” said Trang. “I am upset because the outbreak really pushed us to a dead-end, not to mention those who lost their jobs. I hope this hardship will soon end so that things can get back on track again.”
Trang is one of thousands of labourers whose jobs have been affected by the recent coronavirus pandemic. A survey of some 131,000 enterprises by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam (GSO) showed that by mid-April, Vietnam’s labour market was experiencing a severe employment crisis when about five million employees from at least 59 cities and provinces in Vietnam had lost their jobs. Among them, 1.2 million people were in the manufacturing and processing industry, 1.1 million work in retail and commerce, and 740,000 were in hospitality.
According to the GSO survey, 85 per cent of the participating businesses claimed that they are suffering from pandemic impacts. Meanwhile, 67 per cent of the surveyed businesses said they had resorted to lay-offs, furloughs, and wage cuts.
As of May, when the pandemic was gradually controlled, 70,000-80,000 workers who previously lost their jobs returned to work, but many businesses continued to face difficulties due to the stagnant export markets.
Nguyen Thi Quyen, deputy director general of the Department of Employment under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MoLISA), said that the first five months of 2020 witnessed over 430,000 people applying for unemployment benefits, equalling an increase by 128 per cent on-year. In May alone, there were nearly 160,000 applicants, equalling 145 per cent of the same period last year.
The MoLISA estimates that 7.2 million workers could lose their jobs during the remainder of this year if the pandemic worsens around the globe. Quyen said that, in the worst-case scenario, Vietnam could be severely affected by the global situation, impacting around 90 per cent of the local businesses.
Even under the most optimistic scenario, between 3-3.5 million workers could become unemployed and up to 75 per cent of the businesses could be affected.
Amid this situation, many organisations and businesses came up with timely measures to support workers, especially in industrial zones where there are mostly foreign-invested enterprises – one of the groups that have been most affected by COVID-19.
As such, starting from June 20, the Embassy of New Zealand is working with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and the International Labour Organization in Vietnam to establish a zero-VND supermarket for around 1,500 workers in Hanoi’s Dong Anh area and Thang Long Industrial Park (IP) who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each customer who visits this special supermarket, operated by the trade union of Thang Long IP, can pick up a package of groceries worth around VND200,000 ($8.70) for no charge.
“This project demonstrates the strong partnership between New Zealand and Vietnam,” said New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Wendy Matthews. “This is a practical initiative to help ease the economic impacts of COVID-19 on Thang Long workers and their families.”
In late May, the VGCL decided to provide each of its members and workers VND500,000 ($21.70) nationwide.
Within April and May, trade unions in Hanoi organised visits and supported nearly 60,000 workers under difficult circumstances. While the city is home to more than 4,000 businesses, with more than 160,000 employees affected by the pandemic, The Hanoi Confederation of Labour supported 1,590 labourers in manufacturing, business, and private educational establishments. The total support is valued at VND1.59 billion ($70,000).
Following the programme, the city’s labour federation also granted an additional 1,500 second-phase support packages to workers in the city, each offered VND1 million ($43.40) and 500g of rice.
According to Dinh Quoc Toan, chairman of the Trade Union of Hanoi Industrial and Export Processing Zones Management Authority, the union also advises businesses to offer workers the best suitable solutions, such as allowing employees to take a leave or work alternately while receiving up to 75 per cent of their salaries.
In addition, the trade union has visited and offered its support to employees in hardship. At the same time, the trade union called for the landlords and local authorities to direct rent exemptions or reductions during the pandemic. In the coming time, the trade union plans to give out another 1,000 support packages, each also worth VND500,000 ($21.75), to employees affected by the epidemic to help reduce their difficulties and gradually gain back stability in life.