Additional answers needed for stay-at-work businesses

September 04, 2021 | 09:00
Thousands of workers volunteered to stay and work in factories applying the stay-at-work model to accompany businesses and the cities to fight the pandemic. But at a time when the number of businesses suspending operations is increasing, the workers also need support.
Some workers have been forced to stay home as their companies cannot implement stay-at-work models, Photo Le Toan
Some workers have been forced to stay home as their companies cannot implement stay-at-work models. Photo: Le Toan

Many factories and businesses in southern industrial zones (IZs) continue to maintain their operations after strictly implementing the stay-at-work model. Although there are many controversies about the safety and effectiveness of this scheme, it is undeniable that it has helped businesses maintain production and deliver orders on time amid the pandemic.

Nguyen Thi Luan, a worker of Vietnam Sweneo International Co., Ltd. in Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone in Ho Chi Minh City, said that she and some other female workers shed tears many times because they missed their family in the first days of staying at work.

Luan has two children, the oldest is about to go to college, and the younger is only six years old. Her husband works at another company, but is currently on leave due to the pandemic.

Up to now, Luan has been at the company for a month. Moving there to live and work has allowed her to ensure an income for her family to overcome immediate financial distress.

Hong Giang, a worker in a factory in Song Than 2 Industrial Park in the southern province of Binh Duong, shared that she decided to stay at the factory to ensure social distancing and safe production.

Giang is only 25 years old and has been married for eight months now. She and her husband work at two different companies, but they both registered to work under the current model. For a few weeks now, she has only met her husband through brief video calls after the shift, but Giang said it is better to go to work than to stay at home and have no income to pay rent and living expenses.

“I am most worried about cross-infections when working in the factory. However, everything is fine so far and the company also complies with a strict management policy. All workers must provide negative COVID-19 tests, and the company organises tests for all workers every three days,” Giang said.

According to Giang, except for living and working in a closed environment at the factory, the living conditions of female workers are good. They are given an allowance of $6 a day, face masks, and free meals.

Luan and Giang are two of the lucky cases that still have jobs and income at a time when thousands of other workers are facing unemployment. Amid the pandemic, many businesses that are did not qualify to conduct the stay-at-work model had been forced to suspend operations.

However, some businesses that initially tried to implement the model failed and could not continue to maintain operations, and were forced to give employees unpaid leave.

Bui Dinh Phuong, a worker at Thang Long Industrial Park in Hanoi, said she had not been able to work for the company for the last two weeks because there was a positive case of COVID-19 in her area.

In the first 14 days, Phuong was still paid 70 per cent of her salary by the company, excluding benefits. What worries her now is that after the 14th day, she will not receive any salary until she can return to work.

“I didn’t work enough this month, so I only received $173. By August 23, I had to self-isolate, but with this situation, I don’t know when I will be able to go back to work,” she shared.

Phuong added she just wants to go back to work, even if she has to stay there. She would appreciate receiving a salary and not having to pay for three meals.

In addition to self-employed people, workers in IZs are suffering under the latest outbreak. According to statistics of the Hanoi Federation of Labour, as of mid-August, up to 330 enterprises in Hanoi’s industrial and export processing zones had to stop operating, with nearly 1,500 businesses affected. This situation has caused more than 7,200 workers to lose their jobs and nearly 36,000 to be underemployed.

The situation is not brighter in the southern region. In Can Tho city, more than 9,800 businesses have had to close, and 78 per cent of businesses in Can Tho’s IZs also suspended operations.

In Ho Chi Minh City, 625 enterprises still operating under the stay-at-work model account for less than 50 per cent of the total number of businesses, according to Pham Thanh Truc, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Export Processing and Industrial Zones Authority. This means that thousands of workers are on unpaid leave and without a job.

Vice chairman of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) Ngo Duy Hieu, said that many more workers will lose their jobs and incomes as many businesses temporarily continue to suspend operations and close.

Realising that workers also need urgent support, the VGCL has advocated for hospitality owners to exempt or reduce rents for employees since last year. In Binh Duong and Ho Chi Minh City, many owners responded to the zero-VND motel programme for workers. Such schemes are also organised by local trade unions.

Meanwhile, zero-VND supermarkets have been established by the Trade Union of Hanoi Industrial and Export Processing Zones Management Authority to accompany businesses and provide timely support for union members and employees.

Together with the support programmes from various businesses, these actions have contributed to empowering workers to stabilise their lives and continue to accompany businesses to overcome the pandemic.

Nguyen Dang Quang - Truck driver, Dong Anh, Hanoi

For more than three months I am out of work because my truck mainly carries materials and furniture, so I cannot apply for a travel permit.

Even though I have no income at home, I still have to pay the car loan for the bank, plus expenses for the whole family, including my parents.

Before social distancing, my wife also had income from working at a garment company located near our village. But a month ago, the company temporarily laid her off because it was ineligible for the stay-at-work model.

My parents used to sell goods at the market, but since Dong Anh district had one F0 case, they had to stay at home.

Last week I finally received an allowance for my family. Although the subsidy from the government is not much, we are very touched and feel more secure to stay at home.

Tran Thi Bich Loan - Worker, Dong Anh Footwear JSC

Before Hanoi applied Directive 16, my job was stable, and though my income was a bit lower than before, it was still there.

After an F0 case in Thang Long Industrial Park, my company had to slow down operations, even though it is not located in that area. Many women with small children and elderly parents like me can’t register to work within the stay-at-work model, so they have to take unpaid leave.

My whole family mainly lives on farming, my income, and that of my husband, who works as a Grab driver. But now, he is also out of work. So, we are trying to save any money we can. Our family is still luckier than many others, as many employees in my company come from other provinces, and now have to stay in motels and save money to send back to the families.

We are also lucky because we still have a field and a garden, so we can provide a part of our daily food on our own. But if it takes longer, the medical expenses for our parents could become a problem, as well as the upcoming education for our children.

I hope the pandemic will soon end, so that my husband and I can continue to work and stabilise our lives.

Ho Thu Ha - Worker, Pretreen Company, Linh Xuan Export Processing Zone

I have stopped working since the city rolled out the quarantine order from July 9. Because of the pandemic, the company gave workers a temporary leave. Nobody in the company knows when we can return. Leaving the job also meant losing my income. Although the decision wasn’t mine, I have not received any support from the company. I know that it is dealing with difficulties too, though.

Life is much more difficult now. I have to pay for living expenses, but because I live on my own, at least I don’t have to worry about anyone else.

Strictly speaking, I rent a small bedsit, which fits my budget, with a space just large enough for one person to move. And, because people are barred from wandering around, it is a bit stuffy staying in the room all day. Furthermore, Ho Chi Minh City is very hot right now, so I almost feel like suffocating. But for the time being, I have to accept it.

I know that not only me, but everyone else also has difficulties amid the pandemic. I hope to receive support for accommodation and that the pandemic will end soon.

Nguyen Ngoc Phu - Worker, Sprinta Co., Ltd., Linh Trung II Industrial Zone

Now that I have lost my job, I also lost my income. It’s much more difficult now, and I have to save money on food because if I don’t, I won’t be able to last until next month. The city has expanded social distancing and the company has not yet resumed operations, and so it feels like a nightmare.

For the entire month, I have been worried about going outside. Many people have passed away, and I don’t want to be one of them.

Unfortunately, almost all streets in Thu Duc city have been blocked. Even going to the market is limited, but ironically it doesn’t affect me much, since I don’t have money to buy things. The city has provided support packages for people, but I haven’t received anything yet. I hope someone helps me with some food to make it less difficult.

By Thai An

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