by Thu Hien
HA NOI — Leaving his house at 6.30am, it took Tran Hai Nam 30 minutes on bus to get to work at a factory in Ha Noi's Cau Giay District. There, he worked as a machine operator for eight hours a day to earn VND3.5 million (US$166) a month. Together with his wife's factory income of VND3 million ($142), it bought the basics – without any luxuries – for a three-member family.
|Unemployed people search for work at the Ha Noi Jobs Placement Centre. — VNS Photo Thu Hien
Those days have passed. The couple both lost their jobs when their factories began cutting back production. They are now struggling to survive. The 32-year-old Nam says: "I was in shock trying to figure out how my family could overcome this difficult period."
Nam is one of thousands of workers thrown out of work since the beginning of the year as nearly 18,000 enterprises went bankrupt. According to Le Quang Trung, an official with the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, unemployment is rife in Ha Noi, HCM City, the southern provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai and some other big cities. Most were formerly employed in processing and machinery.
Thirty-six-year-old Le Duc Thanh says he and his wife were working in the same factory so both were made idle when it suddenly closed down in November. Difficulties piled up," he says. "My wife and I had to move from our rental flat costing VND1.5 million ($71) a month in inner Thanh Xuan District to share a room on the outskirts of Long Bien District for VND20,000 (90 cents) a night. On some days, all we had to eat was a loaf of bread."
Thanh then found labouring work as a porter at Long Bien Market while his wife became a waitress in a coffee shop. However, carrying heavy bags of fruit hurt his back and he was forced to lie in bed for nearly two weeks.
Then his wife was harassed by a customer and gave up her temporary job. His parents in the country sent money to support them. "They are old and we were creating extra worries for them. I felt really ashamed when getting their money."
Despite the difficulties, Thanh and his wife had no intention of returning to farm work. "Going back means never having a better life, but I still have chances here," Thanh says. The couple started collecting items from garbage dumps to sell. They started late in the evening as garbage piled up in Soc Son, Gia Lam, Chuong My and Cau Dien – and finished at 3am.
Thanh says: "Armed with a steel rod and a pair of gloves, we pick up plastic and metal objects or anything that can be sold for money. In the first week, we were so overcome by the smell of garbage we hardly ate anything. Our clothes, hair and hands exuded this smell."
Unlike Nam and Thanh who moved to the city in the search for a better life, Dinh Thi Thuan, 40, got a job in a city garment factory to make money to treat her son's kidney failure. However, Thuan lost her job three weeks ago and is now working at a tailor's, and earning VND2 million ($95) a month – half of what she got at the garment factory.
"I used to get VND4 million," she says, "which was enough for my child's hospital expenses and our rent. Now, I don't know how to pay the bills."
Nam, Thanh and Thuan are all battling to survive with little or no savings and no insurance. Nam does qualify for unemployment insurance, but he has been battling to get his former employers to pay.
Vu Trung Chinh, director of Ha Noi Jobs Placement Centre, says the best type of unemployment insurance offers allowances for from three to nine months equal to 60 per cent of the former wage – plus a monthly allowance of VND300,000 ($14) for six months to improve their working skills.
Chinh says many employers can't pay insurance because they have embezzled their employees' contributions. This often occurs because a lack of inspectors leads to ineffective management of enterprise payments.
"Employment-placement centres nationwide are also overloaded with procedures for registering unemployed labourers," Chinh says. "It usually takes much longer than one-month for all steps to be accomplished."
Nam says he has been kept waiting for his unemployment allowance for nearly two months.
Nevertheless, at least, Nam, like another 120,000 jobless workers, on the face of it is luckier than Thanh and Thuan, who did not qualify for insurance.
Nguyen Thi Lan Huong, director of the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs says that as insurance policy fails to cover all unemployed labourers, a draft Employment Law is being introduced to cover all workers for some payments.
However, she says it will not work unless there is strict punishment for employers who refuse to contribute.
In Ha Noi, there are 180 debtors who each owe the insurance fund VND1 billion ($47,600) or more. And there are many smaller debtors.
Huong claims the State intends to create public jobs for the unemployed in the countryside, such as building infrastructure projects, dredging rivers and lakes and collecting rubbish. In the meantime, many unemployed workers prowl around looking for ways to survive.
Nam says he can't wait for job chances through job centres. "My own blood, sweat and tears will have to pull me through this difficult time."
He now works as a motorbike driver and his wife started selling fruit at a temporary market.
Meanwhile, Thuan is acting as a care-giver for patients at the hospital where her son is being treated. — VNS