|Former Director of the General Statistics Office Nguyễn Bích Lâm. — VNA/VNS Photo|
Former Director of the General Statistics Office Nguyễn Bích Lâm spoke to Vietnam News Agency about the importance of labour, particular workers’ skills, physical and mental health in creating growth and high quality to develop the economy.
What are the major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on labour and employment in 2021?
The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Việt Nam hit in two leading economic hubs and many localities throughout the country, leaving negative impacts on the country's labour and employment. In 2021, the number of workers aged 15 years and older with jobs decreased by 1 million compared to 2020. The underemployment rate of workers stands at 3.1 per cent, an increase of 0.71 percentage points compared to 2020. The unemployment rate stood at 3.22 per cent, an increase of 0.54 percentage points over the previous year. The average monthly income of employees decreased compared to the previous year.
In 2021, the labour force aged 15 and over decreased by 791,000 people. The rate of people at working age joining the labour force decreased by 1.9 percentage points compared to 2020. The pandemic not only affected the formal sector but also the informal one, making many workers unable to get jobs, even temporary or informal jobs.
The Southeast region and the Mekong River Delta were severely affected with 4.59 per cent and 44.7 per cent of employees respectively losing jobs or being laid off.
The pandemic widened the skills gap of existing workers and the skills that businesses required to adapt to changing technology and markets.
The pandemic caused a large shift of labour from urban areas to rural areas, from economic hubs to provinces, leading to a partial imbalance between labour supply and demand, especially those in provinces and cities in the Southeast key economic region which have been severely hit by the pandemic.
What are the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses and employees?
The business sector plays an important role in economic growth, creating jobs, and improving people's living standards. As of December 31, 2020, Việt Nam’s economy has 811,500 enterprises in operation, contributing more than 60 per cent of GDP; creating more than 15 million jobs, with the average monthly income of an employee of operating enterprises which reported 2019 business results reached VNĐ 9.3 million.
Enterprises are concentrated mainly in two key economic regions of the economy - the Red River Delta with 253,400 enterprises accounting for 31.2 per cent of the country’s total and Southeast region with 334,900 enterprises accounting for 41.2 per cent of the country’s total.
Labour in these two regions accounted for 69.6 per cent of the total number of employees of the entire enterprise sector in the country.
The pandemic has caused shocks that greatly affected businesses and workers, especially in the two key economic regions in the North and the South. In 2021, the whole country has 119,800 enterprises suspending business for a definite time, shutting to wait for dissolution procedures and completing dissolution procedures, and 64,800 enterprises withdrew permanently from the economy.
A survey by the Việt Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry showed that 83.3 per cent of enterprises experienced a shrinking market, 52.5 per cent a decrease in liquidity and 45.1 per cent disruption in supply. The non-state enterprise sector is most affected, while the State-owned enterprise sector is the least affected.
Despite difficulties, businesses have been actively seeking solutions such as borrowing capital to maintain production and business, searching for new markets and customers, rearranging labour or allowing employees to work remotely. However, over 60 per cent of enterprises had to apply measures to cut labour costs, for example, giving workers unpaid leave or reducing working hours. About 40 per cent of enterprises reduced employment.
The pandemic has had a heavy and profound impact on workers, especially migrant workers, female workers, workers with short-term contracts and temporary workers. Migrant workers faced dual challenges - reduced income, joblessness and separation from family in the countryside. Implementing social distancing for a long time has caused a heavy psychological shock to employees, seriously affecting their mental health.
Due to reduced working hours, temporary layoffs, or job loss, workers are forced to cut spending even on essentials for daily living. Up to 75.3 per cent of workers reportedly cut food costs, 81.5 per cent of workers cut other basic expenses on clothing, transportation, education. 33.2 per cent of workers cut housing costs. The need to cut essential expenditures clearly reflects the difficult life of workers, and seriously affects their health and working ability regeneration.
What do you think about the Government's action for workers and businesses during the difficult time?
Seeing the serious consequences caused by the pandemic on production and business activities and people's lives, in order to promptly and step by step remove difficulties, and restore production and business, the Government in July issued Resolution No 68/NQ-CP on a number of policies to support employees and employers experiencing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Immediately after promulgating the resolution, the Prime Minister issued Decision No 23/2021/QD-TTg stipulating the implementation of support policies for employees and employers.
These policies demonstrate the Government's care in supporting workers, gradually stabilising their lives. As problems were revealed during the implementation of such policies, Government reduced conditions so that employees and employers could access support more easily; enterprises may submit dossiers for vocational training support in several times and more supports were given to workers, the elderly and people with disabilities.
In the past two years, policies of the Government and all levels towards employees and employers affected by the pandemic have become more timely, more practical, and more convenient.
As of November 15, 2021, the total funding for the implementation of Resolution No 68/NQ-CP and Decision No 23/2021/QD-TTg is VNĐ27.29 trillion with 27.63 million employees and employers supported.
Do you have any recommendation to restore and stabilise the labour market in the future?
In the past, the Government and localities have urgently implemented packages to support workers and businesses. However, the scale of support packages is not large enough to help the beneficiaries overcome difficulties. In the future, it is necessary to have economic policies that are strong enough for the economy to recover quickly and accelerate to keep up with the recovery of the world economy.
The Government and localities need to have policies and solutions to support businesses to ensure safety, disease prevention and social security. Support for vulnerable groups like migrant workers and female workers is very important.
The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs needs to identify, monitor, evaluate and develop a plan to thoroughly handle potential risks of the labour market. In addition, the ministry needs to proactively provide information, develop plans for coordination among localities in the supply and recruitment of labour, and create connection of labour supply chains between localities.
The ministry also needs to coordinate information between localities in supporting and creating conditions for workers to return to work. It must closely study the labour demand of the business sector, implement connectivity solutions, and ensure a suitable labour supply for businesses.
Relevant agencies should actively review and capture information about the local source of unemployed labour, the recruitment needs of enterprises inside and outside industrial zones.
Next, they must develop a plan to connect workers and businesses, opening in-person and online employment floors to connect job seekers and employers.
Labour ministry, business associations and localities should organise dialogues between employers and employees, which would be helpful in finding suitable solutions in job placement and arrangement to overcome difficulties and prevent labour disputes.
Enterprises need to prepare facilities, safe working conditions and ensure that employees receive the full dose of vaccine. Businesses need to implement solutions to exempt and reduce recruitment and skill training costs, offering incentives relating to wages, bonuses, overtime pay, housing support, electricity and water, childcare so that employees can feel secure and stick with the business. The moves could help business recover soon, create stability and speed up production in the future. — VNS