City stores struggle with worker dearth

September 08, 2021 | 15:01
While thousands of workers in big cities are having to migrate to their hometowns due to unemployment, many businesses trying to maintain production and business activities are facing a serious labour shortage.
Supermarkets that can remain open are struggling with labour shortages in some areas, Photo Duc Thanh
Supermarkets that can remain open are struggling with labour shortages in some areas. Photo: Duc Thanh

The Vinmart and Vinmart+ systems are among the leading enterprises in the field of distributing consumer goods in the country, with a workforce of more than 40,000 people. But for a few months now, even these stores have suffered from a high turnover rate as all F1 and F2 coronavirus cases have to undergo isolation.

“There are periods like in Ho Chi Minh City now when a supermarket has an infected case or an F1 comes to buy goods, and we will have a shortage of up to 80 per cent of workers at that supermarket. However, we still strictly follow the regulations to ensure a safe working environment for the remaining employees as well as customers,” said Nguyen Thi Phuong, deputy general director of umbrella company VinCommerce.

Khanh Linh from the Communications Department of AEON Vietnam said that some of the group’s supermarkets had to temporarily stop accepting customers because online orders increased by 50-70 per cent compared to before social restrictions, and there were not enough supermarket employees to serve. In order to reduce the pressure on employees while unable to recruit more workers, AEON decided to mobilise staff from the Administrative-Office Department to assist in packing and preparing orders for customers in the past several months.

Pham Thanh Hung, deputy general director of local egg and meat processor Ba Huan Corporation, said that the company’s workforce of 900 has decreased by 20-30 per cent across the country since organising production under the stay-at-work model, while employees there had to work overtime continuously.

“Currently, we are organising production at full capacity and working overtime to make up for the shortage since workers with family circumstances cannot stay in production for a long time. But in the long run, the business’ products are essential and the demand is continuously increasing, so there is huge pressure to maintain production with a reduced workforce,” said Hung.

According to Nguyen Van Be, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Export Processing and Industrial Zones Business Association (HBA), industrial zones (IZs) in the city currently maintain 20 per cent of employees. Only 51,000 out of 260,000 employees have worked since factories moved to the stay-at-work model. In the IZs, the number of employees also decreased greatly, to around 10,000.

While some businesses have a serious shortage of workers, many have been unemployed for months now because businesses had to temporarily suspend operations as they could not meet the requirements for stay-at-work.

The General Statistics Office noted that for the second quarter of 2021, the number of unemployed and underemployed people in the country increased compared to the first quarter, with 1.2 million and 1.1 million, respectively. According to the Department of Employment (DOE) under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the impact of the pandemic in recent months has paralysed the southern labour market, which is typically the most vibrant and attracts the most workers.

“Labour movements pose the risk of significant shortages during and after the pandemic, especially for unskilled workers for leather and footwear, textiles, and assembly of electronic components,” a representative of the DOE said.

“The number of workers returning to their hometowns to work is estimated to be about 60-70 per cent. Therefore, there is a risk of labour shortages occurring after the pandemic subsides in cities with many industrial and export processing zones, but there may be a surplus of labour in places where the supply is large, such as the agricultural industry,” the representative added.

In order to solve the labour problem, many businesses have been giving priority to vaccinating workers, especially businesses in industrial and export processing zones, as well as those in tourism, logistics, and import and export businesses.

Support policies for employees to suspend contracts, take unpaid leave, and support foreign or freelance workers have also been implemented by many businesses.

Phuong of VinCommerce shared that businesses have to do encouragement on the one hand, and on the other hand offer many financial solutions to motivate and retain employees. Each employee that is an F0 will be supported with around VND5 million ($220), while F0’s in difficult circumstances will receive special support. Expenses that are not within the scope of the government and covered by insurance are fully supported by the company, she explained, while employees are also offered a health insurance package with an insurance benefit of VND40 million ($1,700).

Hoang Uyen Phuong, owner of a household appliance manufacturing facility in Ngoc Hoi Industrial Cluster in Hanoi, said that since the whole city applied strict social distancing, the company had to come up with many solutions to maintain nearly 30 per cent of the workforce for normal operations.

“We are committed to renting a hotel and organising a separate vehicle for these workers to go to the manufacturing facility. Although the cost is high and products cannot be sold at this time, businesses have to maintain production because if they lay people off now, it will be difficult to call skilled workers back once the pandemic passes,” said Phuong.

By Lu Y

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional