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|New strategies being used to ensure production can continue may have to be updated to suit particular localities. Photo: Doosan|
After five weeks of implementing a strategy allowing employees to work, eat, and sleep at factories and other workplaces, strain is starting to show. At a medical device manufacturing site in the southern province of Binh Duong, some employees at US-backed Diversatek Vietnam are homesick and would like to go home to see their families.
“This is certainly understandable. We always try to help those gain whatever testing/paperwork is needed if they choose to leave. As it stands, we currently have less than 50 per cent of our workforce in the factory,” Jonathan L. Moreno, general director of Diversatek Vietnam, told VIR.
“We are looking to bring in others who chose not to join initially by creating a one-week test/quarantine centre at a nearby hotel to qualify these additions to join our bubble,” Moreno said. “We are hoping the government will provide some additional ideas for maintaining operations because we believe it will be difficult to sustain this current approach beyond mid-September. Additionally, the extra costs, lost revenue, and disrupted supply chain are beginning to create significant problems.”
According to Chu Tien Dung, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Business Association, there have been problems arising after manufacturing enterprises adopted three-on-the-spot production. Businesses across various fields like food processing, consumer goods, textiles, mechanics, and plastics have struggled to set up their facilities to ensure employees can live, eat, and work on-site. Meanwhile, workers have become more stressed under the unusual working environment.
Despite the strategy being created to offer coronavirus-free bubbles, some factories have detected new virus clusters among their workers, leading to entire suspensions for some factories. Thus, corporate leaders and association representatives are calling for adjustments to the three-on-the-spot model to help manufacturers maintain production.
Nguyen Thi Phuong, standing deputy general director of VinCommerce under Masan Group, proposed the government and local authorities allow the company to set up a “buffer zone” around its factory sites. This zone could be schools, warehouses, stadiums, and gymnasiums near its production sites that could be transformed into accommodation facilities for workers to live and rest. F1 and F0 workers can isolate themselves in the zone and return to work after recovering from the virus.
Another alternative solution is a two-on-the-spot model. Accordingly, the authorities can set up green zones for pandemic-free areas. Manufacturers in the zones can implement the model for employees to work and eat on-site. Meanwhile, there will be a route for them to return home, in compliance with the pandemic-prevention measures.
Kenneth Atkinson, founder and senior adviser of Grant Thornton Vietnam said, “We should regard new innovative measures like three-on-the-spot as experimental and opportunities to learn, so they need to be kept under regular and constant review by appointed task forces, comprising representatives from relevant government departments and industry leaders so that adjustments and improvements can be made as we learn from the steps being implemented.”
Atkinson noted the two-on-the-spot solution may have its own troubles and increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading to other neighbourhoods. Staying in a green area close to the factory workplace, with dedicated shuttle transport to accommodation is another option and, while perhaps a better option to the first, also having its own challenges.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade has proposed a number of options for manufacturers to maintain production. One is that workers in three-on-the-spot factories can return home with their employers’ commitments with local authorities. Such workers will commute in personally-held vehicles from their production site to a living place and follow safety measures for quarantine F1 at homes. They will move on a fixed route without stopping on road.
According to the ministry, there should be guidance for localities to develop production recovery scenarios and specific requirements for businesses to resume operation. At the same time, local authorities should carry out periodic cumulative testing and direct sampling at factories to cut costs and time for them while ensuring safety for workers.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said that the three-on-the-spot model is successful when being applied in the northern provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh, but not efficient in southern cities and provinces. Thus, MoH has requested local authorities and industrial zones management boards in the south to formulate production plans based on their conditions and the MoH’s pandemic prevention guidance. The local people’s committees are responsible for organising inspections to avoid overlapping and providing timely and effective measures to ensure support for businesses. The local departments of health will guide businesses to carry out screening and periodic testing for employees.
“The government should be flexible in applying different models to fight COVID-19, formulate scenarios to live with the pandemic in the long term, and consider the resilience of businesses,” said Phan Duc Hieu, deputy director of the Central Institute of Economic Management. “There should be more initiatives to increase the autonomy of businesses as long as they ensure safe production and maintain closer collaboration with local authorities. Otherwise, it will lead to risks for the economy and break of supply chains.”