Women hardest hit by downturn

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Gender biases sharpen in Vietnam as unemployment soars


A female employee at a workshop in Bat Trang Village outside Hanoi. In 2010, the unemployment rate among females in Vietnam was 8.3 percent, compared to 5.9 percent among males, according to a new report.

When the going gets tough, it gets tougher for women.

Nguyen Thi Huong discovered this bitter truth after spending more than a month in a fruitless search for work.

Huong joined the growing ranks of the unemployed after her firm, a silk producer in Hanoi's Van Phuc craft village, shut down after its business dwindled. The 23-year-old weaver widened her search to industrial parks in the neighboring province of Vinh Phuc, but had no luck.

"Companies which offer good salaries do not want to employ females, while those accepting women offer wages that are too low, not enough to live on," she said.

Gyorgy Sziracki, director of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Country Office for Vietnam, said over one million youths enter Vietnam's labor market each year. Many of them, especially females, find it hard to get and keep jobs.

In 2010, the unemployment rate among females was 8.3 percent, compared to 5.9 percent among males, according to the ILO.

Studies have shown that companies with high demand for female workers mainly operate in labor-intensive sectors such as garment, footwear and seafood. However, these sectors, hurt by higher input costs and lower sales, have narrowed production and reduced their workforce.

Pham Xuan Hong, vice chairman of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association, said the biggest difficulty for garment producers is low purchasing power in both local and foreign markets. Many small- and medium-sized garment firms have shut down their business as a result, he said.

Nguyen Huu Quy, labor and social insurance director under the Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs of Vinh Phuc Province, said: "Few firms in our province's industrial parks have demand for new workers. A footwear company, which employs more than 3,000 workers, has actually asked its employees to take off work in turns because it has fewer orders from foreign customers."

TOP PRIORITY

Doan Mau Diep, Deputy Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said: "Vietnam's priority is creating stable jobs for youths. The government has issued policies on education and training, and employment services to facilitate youth access to jobs. In the future, we will continue to improve job generation for youth, in an effort to reach national target for stable development."

Experts have said labor market policies should be supplemented with other services like vocational training, career guidance and counseling, as well as unemployment subsidies. Workers should also be able to access employment through public works.

Vietnam is expected to have an additional 9.5 million people join the workforce in the next 10 years, and needs to create 15.3 million new jobs during this period, according to the job department under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Tran Anh Tuan, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Center of Forecasting Manpower Needs and Labor Market Information, said many women are having to accept unstable work with low income, and face high unemployment risks because of their limited qualifications.

Bias against women

In Vietnam, especially in rural areas, education is less of a priority for daughters than sons.

Phan Truong Son, the deputy director of a trade company in Hanoi, said his newly-established firm needs to recruit five more sales representatives. Son does not want female employees. "Women often pay less attention to their work than men," he said. "They can also go on maternity leave for months, affecting our work."

Son's firm has 20 employees, and only two of them are women.

Le Quang Trung, deputy head of the job department under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said the number of firms shutting down or facing bankruptcy has increased amidst the economic slowdown, resulting in a high unemployment rate.

Trung said enterprises will continue to face many difficulties in the first half of this year, so the high unemployment rate is likely to persist. Manual laborers, skilled workers and managers may all lose their jobs, he said.

Vietnam's economic growth eased to 5.9 percent last year from 6.8 percent in 2010. The government is targeting 6 percent growth for 2012.

A recent report issued by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that more than 7,600 Vietnamese companies shut down last year. Of the 622,977 licensed companies in Vietnam at the end of 2011, 12.6 percent have closed, it said.

Cao Sy Kiem, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises, said the number of companies that have shut down is expected to continue to rise as the economy remains sluggish.

According to the Management Board of HCMC Industrial Parks and Processing Zones, the number of laborers needed is expected to go down to 30,000 this year, much lower than the 50,000 last year.

Few companies have announced plans to recruit more employees this year.

According to the HCMC Center of Forecasting Manpower Needs and Labor Market Information, some 36,000 applied for unemployment insurance in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 57 percent over the same period last year.

In Vietnam, most of the unemployed people are youths, according to a recent ILO report. Up to 50.4 percent of Vietnam's unemployed are in the 15-24 age bracket.

Young people are finding it harder than other age groups to get jobs in Vietnam, and this does not augur well for the future, experts have said.

However, the problem is worse than mere unemployment, as the quality of work for youth is decreasing. Many young laborers are working for low earnings with little protection, and more work is being done in difficult conditions, the ILO said in its report.

The 2011-2020 Vietnam Employment Strategy report estimates the unemployment rate among youth aged 15-24 at around 7 percent over the previous decade, compared to the overall rate of 2.88 percent.

The youth unemployment rate is likely to grow as 1.5-1.6 million young people enter the workforce every year. Several limitations, including access to quality training and imbalances between training and market needs, will continue to remain stumbling blocks to this generation, experts warn.

Andrea Salvini, an economist with the ILO Office for Vietnam, said: "When the country moves up the ladder of economic development, and the traditional family structures of household business engaging in subsistence agriculture changes, young workers are those most exposed to phenomena of joblessness."

He said high youth unemployment presents high individual and social costs. Individual costs refer to income losses and lack work experience while social costs include a reduction in the labor force for the society as a whole.

Poor employment outcomes early in life are often the first steps for recurrent unemployment and inactivity later in life, Salvini said.

In all this, women are the greater sufferers because of ingrained prejudices that provide them with less education, less training, less pay and more workplace discrimination, experts said.

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