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Working for 30 bowls of soup

Update: February, 16/2012 - 09:46

by Thu Huong Le

Starting May 2012, the minimum wage for State employees will be raised from VND850,000 to VND1,050,000 (US$40-50) monthly.

Taking the current living expenses in Ha Noi and HCM City into account, that amount can buy on average 30 bowls of pho ga or chicken noodle soup.

With inflation hitting 18 per cent in 2011, the country's major cities have become expensive places to live, unaffordable for even State employees or public servants who are trapped in a complex salary system that has not been fair to those who are supposedly the guardians of Government policies.

Raising the State minimum wage should not be a controversial measure. The consequences of not doing so are enormous in the long-term, eroding the public sector's accountability, transparency and affecting social harmony.

Most Vietnamese who work for State-owned offices, Government agencies, public schools and hospitals, often joke about the possibility of surviving on the minimum wage. Many rely on extra jobs to cover living expenses.

Others rely on obscure allowances and in extreme cases, corruption is inevitable. The current system has made some of the highest ranked State officers use their positions to snatch wealth and opportunities.

The Government's ambitious National General Plan for Administrative Reform 2011-20 aims to renovate the salary policy for all State workers to a level that, by 2020, they can live "rather comfortably" with their basic salary.

The plan also illustrates changes in remuneration based on expertise level and working conditions, further clarifying title, duties, and roles of every state employee across the country. This is part of an effort to tighten the number of State workers. The reform would also touch on the competitiveness of public examinations to openly choose senior public officials at the central and local level.

By 2020, the Government hopes that more than 80 per cent of the public will be satisfied with public administrative services and other services delivered by public entities, such as health and education.

However, some already question the plan's feasibility and its vagueness. Who can decide the basic salary on which one can live comfortably? For the past couple of years, the increase in minimum wages has not caught up with the increase in inflation. So, to expect this plan to affect change in the next nine years, stabilising the macro-economy is critical.

The current system of levelling State salaries, which emphasises the number of years worked instead of the efficiency of that work, should be eliminated. It does not encourage those who are in the system to put their hearts into the work and prevents those who can make changes from having the slightest intention to become public officials.

According to a senior official from the Ministry of Home Affairs, all salary reform primarily depends on the country's socio-economic situation since the salaries of public servants account for about 40 per cent of the state budget.

However, according to statistics from the Ministry of Finance, in 2011, the State salaries and allowances accounted for nearly 9.6 per cent of the GDP, which was higher than the 6.7 per cent in 2010.

Maximising the use of the State budget in particular and State funds in general for renovating State salaries and allowances is another issue. Finally, the Government must also review the public sector workforce and cut staff numbers so it can afford to pay those who deserve better salaries.

Without all of these efforts, the public will continue bearing the burdensome administrative procedures and the prevalence of public corruption.

Without all of these efforts, State workers who work extra jobs to support their families will continue to struggle and wonder why their salaries can only match the street-vendor who sells ice-tea across from their offices. — VNS

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