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Sugercane cutters lead a hard life

Update: January, 22/2016 - 09:21
Farmers harvest sugarcane in Central Highland Gia Lai province. Along the section of the East Truong Son highway that crosses the central highland Gia Lai Province, hundreds of makeshift shacks were being pitched on both sides of the road.— Photo thvl.vn

PHU YEN (VNS) — Along the section of the East Truong Son highway that crosses the central highland Gia Lai Province, hundreds of makeshift shacks were being pitched on both sides of the road.

The shelters were inhabited by thousands of people who left their native villages from Binh Dinh and Phu Yen central provinces to work as employees on sugarcane farms.

At night, in a shack pitched in the middle of a sugarcane field in An Trung Commune, Gia Lai Province, 13 employees were asleep on a hammock.

Only a 35-year-old woman was still awake and trying to phone her child living in her native village of Binh Dinh Province's An Nhon Township.

"My husband and I have left my village for two months," Nguyen Thi Le Thu said. "Our only son, age eight, moved to stay with his grandmother."

Long days, harsh nights

Pham Ngoc Minh, Thu's husband, said that in early October, An Nhon villagers packed their bags with old cloths and sharpened machetes, then took a bus to the Central Highlands area.

For shelter, these sugarcane cutters had to tidy up an unused cow pen. The smell of sweat and manure filled their shelter.

"We are luckier than others," Minh said. "Many workers are spending the night sleeping on hammocks outdoors."

At noon in another makeshift tent, four women avoided the hot sunshine by wearing veils as they cook rice for the villagers in Phu Yen Province's Hoa Dinh Dong Commune.

The 3m-high temporary tents constructed from wood and covered with tarpaulin were pitched close to sugarcane gardens, and they provide shelter to hundreds of people for three or four months.Each tent has 15 to 20 hammocks.

"It's okay. It is only for sleeping at night," a male employee said.

Nguyen Thi Tuyet said, "We ate only dried fish and instant noodles to save money to shop for baby clothes during the upcoming Tet (Lunar New Year)."

By noon, hundreds of sugarcane cutters were working hard in the field.

A pregnant woman smiled under the scorching sun, explaining that the difficult labour was not the problem – it was the harsh sun and dry weather that made it nearly unbearable.

Most labourers in the cane fields were dealing with difficult circumstances. In their native village, some have no cultivation land and others are homeless.

Cane cutters agreed that the sick, elderly and pregnant women should stick to housework, while only men will work in the fields at noon and pile cane onto trucks in the evening.

Cane cutters' work was arranged according to a daily schedule: breakfast is served with a bowl of rice and dried fish, and then they work on the fields and have lunch there, heading home only at nightfall.

The cost of labour was VND180,000-200,000 ($9) per tonne of cane, and a healthy employee can cut at least two tonnes of cane per day, earning $18.

Nguyen Thi Chin, 63, left her native village in Phu Yen Province's An Ninh Tay Commune with her 24 year-old son.

"We haven't saved enough money for Tet , so we will work and come home two days before Lunar New Year's first day," she said.

In the evening, cane cutters sit together under kerosene lamps.

A man who spoke suddenly in a husky voice said, "If we had cultivation land at home, no one would work away from home. Children have grown up without their parents' care. They neglect their studies, have no stable jobs, and then they follow their parents to leave home for employment. It's a vicious circle of poverty." — VNS

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