by Le Hung Vong
It is that time of the year when bosses begin fretting about bonuses for employees.
As the Tet (Lunar New Year) festival approaches, firms stuck in difficulties caused by the prolonged economic downturn are devising different approaches to paying bonuses for their employees.
The bigger firms plan to pay higher bonuses in order to build worker loyalty and retain talent, but there are others left searching for face-saving options.
In HCM City's Binh Tan District, the 100 per cent foreign-invested Pou Yuen Viet Nam Company has prepared for Tet bonuses months ahead of the Tet. Cu Phat Nghiep, Chairman of the Trade Union of Pou Yuen Viet Nam, said despite the challenges facing the company, Pou Yuen earmarked VND600 billion (US$28.7 million) for giving Tet bonuses to its 75,000 workers to welcome the Year of the Snake.
He said this year's Tet bonuses would be higher than last year and those who worked for the company for over one year would receive a bonus of at least one month's salary. The bonus for those who've worked for less than one year would depend on the number of months they have been with the company, said Nghiep.
He said Tet bonuses would be transferred to workers' ATM cards on February 6 and 7, three days before Tet.
In addition to the bonuses, workers from other provinces will enjoy a four-day holiday and can resume work on 18 February 2013 (the ninth day of the lunar year).
The chairman of the trade union at Duy Tan Plastics JSC, Tran Van Muoi Hai, said Tet bonuses for the company's 2,000 workers would certainly be higher than last year. Duy Tan would also provide bus tickets for employees to return home for the Tet and use the company's buses to take disadvantaged workers' families home for the holidays. In the current difficult economic situation, many State-owned enterprises are trying hard to maintain their Tet bonuses and not have them lower levels than previous years.
Nguyen Xuan Hoa, Chairman of the State-owned Sai Gon Railroad Management Co., said that despite economic difficulties, giving higher Tet bonuses would encourage the company's staff to work better.
However, some companies caught up in dire financial problems are giving festival bonuses in kind, not cash, so there are workers receiving bricks, rice, garments and even telephone cards.
By 2005, six years after its equitisation, the fortunes of what used to be the biggest tea processing factory of the Indochina region plunged drastically. The company, located in the northern province of Yen Bai, could only give its workers three kilos of sticky rice each as their Tet bonus.
Some years ago, a brick factory in Thai Binh province, decided to give the bricks that it produces to workers as the festival bonus.
A worker of the company said the 1,200 bricks he received as a Tet bonus was worth VND1 million, but the problem was that they could not be sold during the pre-Tet days. As a result, the workers had to return to their home villages to celebrate Tet with no bonus in hand. The worker said he had received bricks as Tet bonuses for three consecutive years now.
A securities company in HCM City has decided to give each employee 30 kilos of Nang Thom brand rice, each kilo priced at VND15,500, as its Tet bonus for 2013.
Auto, motorbike sellers
It is the peak season, but shops selling automobiles and motorbikes, both second-hand and brand new, are welcoming few customers these days.
Some manufacturers say the number of motorbikes sold in 2012 may drop by 25 to 30 per cent compared with last year, adding this could get worse if there is no change in the last two months of the year.
Tu Hoang, who used to sell motorbikes on Hoang Van Thu Street in HCM City's Phu Nhuan District, said he had returned the shop to his landlord because business was stagnant. He started an online business, which helps him save VND20 million per month on house rents and staff salaries.
Hoang said few customers visit motorbike shops these days. "We have been burnt out and are now seeking some other kind of business to survive."
Ngo Van Xong, owner of another motorbike shop on the same street, said at this time in previous years, second-hand motorbikes sold very well at shops in the area.
But now the situation has changed. Some shops are not able to sell a single bike for several days.
The house close to Xong's shop, which was also a motorbike shop a month earlier, is now closed, and a "House for Rent" sign hangs in front.
The market for new motorbikes has fared no better, with hundreds stockpiled at shops' warehouses.
The owner of a Honda agent in Tan Binh District, who declined to be named, said the number of motorbikes sold in December, the peak season for motorbike market, was just 70 per cent of the sales during the same period last year.
Duong Thi Hoa, a worker at a garment factory in Tan Binh District, said she planned to buy a new Honda motorbike to replace the inexpensive Chinese bike she was using, and was waiting for a decent Tet bonus to realise her "Dream" (the name of a popular Honda model).
According to figures from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the number of motorbikes stockpiled in the first 11 months of 2012 rose by 95 per cent compared with the same period last year. By the end of November, Honda Viet Nam had 13,000 bikes in stock while Piaggio Viet Nam Co had 14,900.
The auto market, already in the doldrums for quite some time, is facing similar problems.
On Monday morning, the staff of Ford Ben Thanh salon in Tan Phu District were twiddling their thumbs.
"This time in previous years, customers brought their cars to the salon for maintenance services in preparation for Christmas and New Year trips. But the situation has changed this year," said one of the employees.
A sales agent of Hyundai in HCM City has closed down after suffering monthly losses of VND200 to VND300 million for several months.
The large and prolonged promotion campaigns from auto manufacturers have received little response from customers. — VNS