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Yên Phụ Street in Tây Hồ District has long been recognised as a hub for porters from other provinces. In the rain showers at year-end, groups of workers can be seen sitting around fire pits waiting for hirers.
Lê Trọng Lân, 17, from Triệu Sơn District in the central province of Thanh Hóa, told the Nông thôn Ngày nay (Countryside Today) that he offers furniture moving services for VNĐ500,000 (US$22) a day.
Born in a poor family, Lân gave up studying early and started work to support his parents and help a younger sister pursue an education. A mason by trade, he can earn about VNĐ250,000 ($11) a day. During the holiday period, Lân follows villagers to Hà Nội looking for temporary jobs.
“I do as many jobs as possible, including building, cleaning, shipping work and driving,” he said.
According to Lân, his wage is rising as Tết approaches. From December 23 to 28 (on the lunar calendar), employers often pay him VNĐ700,000 to 1 million (US$31 to 44), double the amount he can earn on normal days.
“Only the poorest people accept work till the end of the year. Most people want to be back home by December 25 on the lunar calendar as the latest,” Lân added.
Long Biên fruit wholesale market in Long Biên District is another city hotspot for manual workers in the pre-holiday season.
Despite the cold snap, many people move their produce at night. Nguyễn Trọng Kiên from Ba Vì District is among them.
“My income is not stable; it depends mostly on how hardworking I am. On freezing days like this, I work till 2 to 3am. Too exhausted, I sleep like a log without eating a thing,” he said
Kiên, along with another four labourers, ported five trucks of fruit, 500kg each. Each of them earned VNĐ800,000 ($35), far higher than the previous days.
Despite the heavy work, not everyone makes a good wage. Nguyễn Thị Hiền, a house cleaner from Hải Hậu District, Nam Định Province, for example, said that cheating was not uncommon.
“Three years ago, when I first went to Hà Nội, a person asked me to clean her five-floor house for VNĐ300,000 ($13) per day. However, after finishing cleaning every corner, they said they were not satisfied and paid me only half of the promised amount. When I questioned this, they simply told me to take it or get nothing,” she said.
At present, she is a member of the Yên Hòa Commune domestic workers club in Cầu Giấy District. Membership offers her a chance to get better jobs and acquire useful skills.
Migrant workers are easy targets for criminals, even human traffickers. Nguyễn Thị Lâm, 37, from Nông Cống District, Thanh Hóa Province, said that three years ago, a broker deceived her out of VNĐ500,000 ($22) and took her identity papers away.
“They promised to introduce me to a company with a minimum wage of VNĐ5 million ($220). However, I was asked to deposit VNĐ1 million ($44). As I gave only half, they kept my ID card,” she said.
Three days later, she was fired. Fortunately, Hà Nội Centre for Employment Service recommended her to a three-star restaurant as a cleaner.
Despite the hardship, manual workers from the country never give up. “I keep working, even on the coldest days. Whatever I do, I do it for my children and my family back home,” said Trần Thị Chức from Vĩnh Phúc Province.