Recession in Vietnam metro devastates hopes of working poor

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A poor resident of District 8 in Ho Chi Minh City's outskirts fixes an old bicycle to resell .

Those already at the bottom of Ho Chi Minh City's economic barrel have been sunk even lower by the economic recession as they have gone from having less to almost nothing, officials and experts said December 20.

The recession has not spared anyone, but the working poor have been most affected as were already all too vulnerable, social researchers and management officials said at the conference held by the city Institute for Development Studies about life quality given the economy, Tuoi Tre reported.

A survey by lecturers at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities of more than 500 workers at major industrial zones in the city found that 58 percent of them only earn between VND2 and 3 million (US$96-144) each month.

Most of them have tried to save as much as possible, with 34.3 percent of the surveyed workers spending less than VND1 million ($48) a month, and 40.7 percent between VND1 and 2 million.

The survey also found that more workers expect to receive a wage increase than those expecting to be provided with better housing conditions or the chance to improve their skills.

Another survey conducted by the school and the HCMC Education University in outlying Binh Tan District found many migrant workers at factories spent less than 30 percent of their income on food, and many tend to skip meals. Meanwhile, locals who have been displaced to make way for local factories have not landed new jobs.

In addition to skimping on food, the workers also avoided spending on educational and entertainment, which usually only took 3 to 6 percent of their income.

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Nguyen Huu Nguyen, an economic researcher, said the biggest impact on high-wage earners from the recession would be reductions to their incomes, but the low-wage workers have had their daily lives affected, their basic education and entertainment being rendered impossible to afford.

The well-off are also less affected by related social problems such as corruption, new and different kinds of bureaucratic fees, the surge in crime, higher tides and environment pollution, Nguyen said.

He said the rich can avoid being negatively impacted by the ills listed above because they hire people to do certain daily tasks, use cars, live in well-built houses in well-guarded areas, but poor people cannot.

Participants at the conference called on government agencies to improve their management to at least provide poor people some buffer against problems such as crime, red tape and poor food safety.

"Along with that, we have to be serious about vocational training and prioritize providing employment opportunities to poorer people," Nguyen said.

Nguyen Thi Dan, a wage official from the city labor department, said at the conference the government should require foreign companies in Vietnam to hire local workers for better jobs so they can receive higher salaries.

More often in Vietnam, foreign companies have sought to pay local workers as little as possible to perform low-skill labor.

"Taiwanese shoemaker Pou Yuen in the city hires around 70,000 workers just to put together pieces of shoes upon orders. So they earn little, and have low life standards," Dan said.

She said the city has been open to foreign investors for more than 20 years now and they are still only hiring workers for such assembling jobs that pay little and do not guarantee social insurance, thus the workers are left without any savings or pension after being sacked, usually around the age of 40.

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