|Manufacturers spread thin trying to reach capacity, Illustration photo |
After almost 70 days of halting production, Trung Son Corporation’s factory in Tan Tao Industrial Zone based in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Tan district has resumed production at 10 per cent capacity. Deputy general director Le Minh Tam said that even if the pandemic is managed and the economy runs as usual, the factory’s capacity will be able to reach only about 50 per cent.
“The number of available workers is not as abundant as before the pandemic started,” said Tam. “There were 900 workers in the factory but 300 of them were infected with coronavirus during July and August and the remaining had to be isolated, making them worried and upset.”
After receiving treatment, many of them left the city to go back to their hometowns.
Tam said that the prolonged problems mean the links between the factory and workers is gradually being fragmented, even though the corporation still pays minimum wage and supports people if they contract COVID-19. “Leaving the city for 3-4 months, many former workers have gradually adapted to the life in the countryside and found out a job close to home, so they don’t want to come back to our factory. Some other employees who are still in the city are trying to find new jobs anyway, even in the surrounding factories,” added Tam.
Trung Son Corporation is one among 1,600 enterprises in Ho Chi Minh City’s 17 export processing zones, industrial parks, and high-tech zones facing severe issues in trying to recruit workers to resume production. According to Ho Chi Minh City Export Processing and Industrial Zones Authority’s Business Association, at least 20,000 workers have left these zones for their hometown, while the same number of workers staying in the nearby provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Duong, and Long An cannot get to the factories because of social distancing restrictions. “The bigger enterprises are, the more shortage of employees they are dealing with, unless workers are vaccinated with two shots,” association chairman Nguyen Van Be said.
According to Dong Nai Department of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs, there were 38,000 firms with more than 1.2 million employees before the current pandemic outbreak. As of end-July, there were 1,200 businesses maintaining production and staying at work with 130,000 labourers. “These enterprises have a lot of orders but face a lot of trouble in production or shortage of workers,” said department director Nguyen Thi Thu Hien.
Elsewhere, Kieu Thi Thuy from the north-central province of Thanh Hoa used to work in a factory in Quang Chau Industrial Zone in the northern province of Bac Giang. She travelled home to avoid outbreaks earlier this summer. “After conquering the coronavirus, Bac Giang and Bac Ninh have called for employees from other localities to come back to the factories for the last two months. However, I am worried because the health crisis is too complicated and unpredictable in the neighbouring localities, so I don’t want to go back to the factory there,” said Thuy.
Nguyen Minh Tuan, head of Employment Division in Bac Ninh Department of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs, said that the number of workers resuming in the provincial industrial zones was around 94 per cent of the total number before COVID-19. “However, recruitment demand in the province is still too large and there is still shortage of workers. Most of them worry about the pandemic re-emerging here, so they stay at home,” said Tuan.
According to Phan Thi Thanh Xuan, vice chairwoman of the Vietnam Leather, Footwear, and Handbag Association, enterprises desire to welcome workers to their factories, but they are passive in this situation. “They are not sure about the time and how the social distancing rules will be broken to negotiate with their partners and call employees back to factories,” said Xuan.
Moreover, they need collaboration among localities and the direction of the government to mobilise labourers back to work. “When the pandemic broke out strongly in Ho Chi Minh City and other southern provinces, the government suggested provinces welcome workers back. So, if the pandemic is under control, the government should ask those provincial authorities to encourage these people back to the factories,” urged Xuan.
As of mid-August, in Ho Chi Minh City’s export processing and industrial zones and high-tech parks, 244,000 people in 827 enterprises had work suspended, according to the city’s People’s Committee. Just over 1,400 firms were hiring 286,000 labourers, including 619 businesses applying the stay-at-work model for nearly 55,200 employees; while 793 enterprises with 230,700 workers were temporarily suspended. More than 2,000 workers have to be quarantined. In the high-tech parks, 34 businesses with over 11,200 employees had to suspend their work.