Not knowing how to pay for their next meals has become a real fear for many freelance workers in Hanoi as the city has tightened its social restrictions and halted all indoor food and beverage establishments, as well as all non-essential services, after the discovery of new outbreaks.
|Freelance workers in pandemic centres longing for sufficient financial support. Illustration photo: Le Toan |
“We have no source of income right now,” said Pham Hien, who lives on Hoang Hoa Tham street.
Hien is 32 years old and in the fourth month of her pregnancy. Previously, she worked at a hair salon on neighbouring Doi Can street, with a stable income of VND8 million ($350) per month.
However, because hairdressing is not considered an essential service, the owner decided to return the premises as operating expenses were too high. As a result, Hien suddenly became unemployed.
Hien said that she was the main breadwinner of the family. Her husband is blind and used to work at a massage parlour, a service which has also had to close down.
“I just asked the head of the neighbourhood group for permission to sell vegetables in the alley. I got his consent, but I could be disciplined because sidewalk encroachment is illegal. I have to try to make money for a few months before giving birth,” Hien said.
Nguyen Van Thanh, a GrabBike rider, could not hide his sorrow as Hanoi continues to practice social distancing. Thanh said his income has nearly halved because, despite the number of customers ordering food and using delivery service increasing, the number of passengers booking rides has fallen sharply.
He is also worried that if the pandemic in Hanoi becomes as complicated as Ho Chi Minh City, many drivers like him will have to stop working altogether.
Thanh used to be a salesman at an electronics store but has been a Grab driver for almost a year now. “I applied for jobs in many places, but all failed,” Thanh said.
Cases like those of Hien and Thanh are not uncommon these days. Freelance workers are not entitled to any benefits such as unemployment insurance or severance support. Therefore, the fear of not being able to cover their living expenses has become even greater than usual.
According to Resolution No.68/NQ-CP on policies to support employees and employers facing difficulties due to the pandemic, a support package amounting to VND26 trillion ($1.13 billion) includes support for freelance workers.
Although Hanoi Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs is planning to deploy resources to the correct beneficiaries as soon as possible, not all freelance workers are supported. “The beneficiaries must be those who are in real difficulties,” said Bach Lien Huong, director of the department.
Many freelance workers in Hanoi also expressed their wish that the city would deploy zero-VND mini supermarkets or stalls similar to those in Ho Chi Minh City to help people in difficult circumstances.
Similar programmes had been implemented by many organisations in Hanoi during previous outbreaks and received positive responses from citizens in the capital.
Le Duy Binh, managing director of Economica Vietnam, said that nearly 18 million Vietnamese are currently informally employed. Millions of these are working in Hanoi and have no labour contract, low incomes, and long working hours.
Social distancing measures have caused millions of these freelancers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to fall into unemployment or underemployment, with many of them pushed into severe poverty.
Binh believes that the most important policy is to protect the livelihoods of freelancers, so that they can overcome the difficult days of social distancing.
“In addition to financial support measures, it is possible to take advantage of safe places to create livelihood opportunities for self-employed workers,” said Binh.