Illustration by Trinh Lap
By Phương Hà
The average working day for bank worker Phạm Hồng Nhung in Hà Nội normally starts at 7am and ends at around 8pm.
“My bank opens at 8am but I have to arrive earlier to prepare the cash. When the branch closes, my colleagues and I have to deal with paperwork, so we work up to 12 hours per day.”
As well as working five and a half days per week, she sometimes has to attend events on Saturday evening or even on Sunday.
“I am exhausted, to be honest. Both my health and looks are going downhill. I can't take proper care of my family as well. My son is only one and is not at nursery school yet, so I have to hire a nanny. My son might be even closer to her than me,” the 28-year-old says.
Nhung revealed that bank clerks and other positions at the bank are also busy and overtime is seen as a routine for them.
“Sometimes I even have to go to the office on weekends and national holidays,” says 30-year-old Hoàng Lan Phương, who works for a commercial bank in Hà Nội, adding she is too busy to find her Mr Right and think about getting married.
Banking staff are among many in Việt Nam who regularly work extra hours, along with doctors, journalists and IT engineers.
According to recent statistics on average annual working hours in selected cities conducted by UBS Group, Hà Nội was in second place with 2,691 hours on average per year, after Mumbai with 3,315 hours per year.
Currently, Việt Nam’s basic working hours are 48 hours a week, higher than many countries in the region and the world.
While Việt Nam claims the dubious top spot for working hours, the country ranks in the second half of World Happiness Report 2019 produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Việt Nam stands 94th of the 156 countries surveyed, and sixth in Southeast Asia, behind Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
So is there any correlation between long working hours and the low happiness index?
Recently, the issue of working hours was raised during discussions for the revised Labour Code. National Assembly deputies had opposing opinions with regards to reducing working hours.
Secretary of the HCM City Party and Politburo member Nguyễn Thiện Nhân said only a few countries allowed more than 40 working hours per week.
Labourers in most countries work less than 40 hours per week, like Chile (37 hours), France (38.5 hours) and particularly Germany (26 hours), but those countries have some of the highest rates of productivity.
Nhân argued that Việt Nam should develop a plan to reduce the working week from 48 to 40 hours a week in the next ten years, and 44 hours per week in the short-term. However, even when Việt Nam’s working hours have been cut, the country would still lag behind others for around 80 years, he said.
“In terms of economics, everyone aspires to have a job, an income and a house. In terms of domestic issues, 95.4 per cent of interviewees hope to have a happy family, 73 per cent want well-behaved and progressive children, while 60 per cent just want to be healthy,” he said.
“But a person working from nine to ten hours per day could not have a happy family,” he confirmed.
According to the secretary of HCM City Party, the increase in productivity demands technological and device innovation as well as the decrease in working hours, not the vice versa.
Another issue that Nhân mentioned was a regulation that limits overtime to 300 hours per year.
He said that in the short-term, employers would benefit and employees could earn extra money; however, the health consequences would lead to a decline in productivity.
“There are 52 weeks in a year. After subtracting their holidays, workers have to be on the job for 50 weeks, with six extra working hours per week and one extra hour per day.
“How can workers stay healthy doing nine hours a day, 12 months a year?” he said.
However, many specialists do not support the idea of cutting overtime.
According to Professor Vũ Thành Tự Anh from Fulbright University, Việt Nam’s economy had the advantage of large-scale cheap labour.
“Limiting overtime could lead to labour shortages and make employees lazy. Employers and employees could also find ways to dodge the law, which would cause unexpected expenses to the economy.
“In other cases, how about skillful workers who wish to earn extra money, share their knowledge and experience, or the poor who want to earn extra money to support their families?” he questioned.
“Authorities are concerned labourers are being over-exploited by working overtime, but we have labour contracts that need to be enforced instead of issuing additional regulations.”
Trần Thị Lan Anh, assistant secretary-general of the Việt Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued that some professions like IT and product development take more time, even overtime hours. If the work isn't finished, sometimes people have to work from home.
“The proposed regulations to tighten working hours might affect large-scale manufacturing enterprises and production lines," she said.
The National Assembly Standing Committee said reducing normal working hours was a matter of national concern, but it had not yet completed an evaluation of the impacts.
On top of that, the proposal has not been approved by the drafting agency or employers. Therefore, more time is needed to fully assess the impacts, as well as more time for the preparation and adaptation process for the economy.
For the time being, employees will still have to work overtime to meet the demands of their jobs and their own financial needs.
“I just want to spend more time with my family and to spend the money I earn from working overtime,” Nhung says. VNS