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|As the Year of the Pig comes to an end, Vietnamese workers continue to demand pork over the alternatives, Photo: Le Toan|
After increasing to an all-time high a month ago, the price of live hogs has since fallen sharply. From VND100,000 ($4.35) per kilogramme during the last days of 2019, the price dropped by up to VND20,000 (87 US cents) last week.
As one of the biggest husbandry companies, C.P. Vietnam stated that it supplies the market with more than 16,000 pigs every day for VND82,000 ($3.57) per kg, lower than the peak a month ago.
Talking with VIR about the fluctuations, Do Hoang Long, development and sales manager of Japfa Comfeed Vietnam Ltd., said that the price of meat rose too high for customers, so they are choosing other foodstuffs. “Looking at the sales volumes of Japfa in the last months, they have decreased sharply by 30-40 per cent,” said Long.
Fortunately, big husbandry companies like C.P. and Japfa have managed to proof their farms against diseases like African swine fever (ASF), so supply has been steadily increasing.
According to Long, live pig exports to China are one of the main reasons behind the shortage in Vietnam. “Over the last three weeks, wholesalers were not allowed to export pigs to China which contributed significantly to supply bouncing back and prices stabilising,” he said.
However, the price of pork at wet markets and supermarkets fell by only half as much as the wholesale price, which went down by VND20,000 (87 US cents) per kg. It is difficult to give a confident estimation for the Lunar New Year holiday, when prices traditionally rise. Experts said the drop could be fleeting, followed by a sudden increase for the holidays.
Difficulties for workers
While the price of pork has been descending, there has been little improvement in the quality of meals served at the canteens of industrial zones (IZs), where massive deterioration was reported as pork prices soared.
Pham Hang, a worker at Export Mechanical Tool JSC in Hanoi, told VIR that in recent days, while prices did decrease, they remained far too expensive for her budget. “I only bought about 100g for my daughter, instead of the 300g we usually buy for the family,” she said.
Ensuring that daily meals are both nutritious and safe with the current high prices puts low- and medium-income earners in a tight spot. “Before the ASF outbreak, we had three or four dinners a week with pork. When prices began breaking records, I had to cut pork from our diet or only bought it for our daughter,” Hang said.
In addition, pork is often replaced with cheaper meat alternatives like chicken or fish at IZs like Thang Long and Quang Minh in Hanoi.
Some foreign-invested companies at these IZs like KAI Corporation, BLD Vina, Hoya Glass Disk Vietnam, and Toto Ltd. have switched to peanuts and tofu for the main dishes, drawing wide complaints from disgruntled workers over the deteriorating quantity and nutrition value of meals, with many workers beginning to prepare meals at home.
Healthy and happy at work
Nguyen Lan, a worker at Asahi Intecc Hanoi Co., Ltd., told VIR that along with decreasing the amount of pork, the meals were less fresh and tasted worse – to the point that workers only ate to keep up their energy to work.
Men in charge of heavy physical work often complained that toppings were very little compared to the rice. “The company raised the price of meals to VND22,000 (96 US cents), but the quality of the meals only improved for a few days, then it got worse again,” she said.
According to workers interviewed at a boarding-house area around Quang Minh and Thang Long IZs, meals taste worse than before due to the lack of pork.
At Japanese- and South Korean-invested companies, they pay more attention to the quality of meals than at Taiwanese and local companies. This can be seen in Japanese and South Korean companies generally opting to replace pork with fish or chicken while their Taiwanese counterparts choose peanuts and tofu.
Ngoc Ha, a worker at Fit Active Vietnam Precision Co., Ltd., told VIR that companies in Thang Long spend up to VND25,000 ($1.09) per meal, however only VND18,000 (78 US cents) of this is spent on the food, with the remainder going on service fees. They expect meals to improve now that the price of pork is heading down.
The quality of meals is important not only when it comes to the taste but for nutritional value as well to ensure workers have enough energy and are in good spirit to work.
Vu Quang Tho, general director of the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions, emphasised that companies should care about workers’ meals. “Cheap meals can hardly meet food safety and hygiene regulations. Unsatisfactory meals can have a negative impact on both workers and the company,” he explained.
“Workers cannot have faith in other welfare programmes and benefits from the company if their meals, which is the bare minimum of welfare, are not tasty or nutritious enough. The price increases were unexpected, however companies have to share their workers’ difficulties by extracting an additional part of their profits to spend on meals. Good meals not only keep workers healthy, but they also help them work efficiently and happily – and ultimately remain at the company.”