Workers used and abused, without pay

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Workers in Ho Chi Minh City struggle with unstable jobs, abuse at work, and bosses who flee to avoid paying employees

Workers from Miso Vina Company stay at the company yard around the clock awaiting payment after the South Korean director fled to avoid paying their salaries

Binh burns leaves and sticks at night to keep away mosquitoes while he and his co-workers sleep at the company yard.

The workers from garment manufacturer Miso Vina Company in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Tan District are camping in the company property demanding unpaid and late salaries.

"We take turns waiting here around the clock hoping to get our late pay," said Binh.

They have been there for days since the company director, a South Korean man who also owns the company, fled the country on October 19, owing a total of nearly VND500 million (US$23,800) in workers' salaries.

Female workers and children take shelter in the security booth, blanketed by darkness after their candles burn out. They use some pieces of cardboard as hand fans to cool themselves and chase mosquitoes away.

Another worker, Sai, carefully clutches her salary receipts from previous months, fearing that the company has erased her profile to avoid payment.

"I have tried to work extra hours over the past months to increase my meager salary of less than VND2 million ($95)," she said. "Now I can't get a single penny. How can I continue living?"

A survey by Thanh Nien found that dozens of companies at HCMC industrial parks have delayed payments to workers and several of their directors have even fled the country to avoid payment. Among them are two South Korean invested companies, H&M Vina and Mido. H&M Vina owes its workers a total of more than VND2 billion in salaries while Mido owes an unknown combined amount of salary and insurance payouts.

On October 31, the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs instructed cities and provinces nationwide to inspect social insurance payments at local companies and issue strict punishment against violators.

At a recent meeting, the HCMC People's Committee, the local government, reported that many foreign company directors have fled the country to avoid paying salaries, and that viable prevention measures had not yet been drawn up.

"After renting a factory and equipment, they exploit the workers for as much as they can, and then just leave them behind when their business is faltering," said a report issued by the city hall.

Nguyen Dang Tien, deputy director of the HCMC Social Insurance Agency, said that in most cases, companies did not pay his agency the social insurance fees they deducted from workers' salaries.

He said that lawsuits often did not benefit the workers, adding that the current fines of a maximum VND30 million were not enough to deter violations.

Statistics from the Vietnam Social Insurance company show that companies owe more than VND4.3 trillion (US$205 million) in social insurance fees from the first nine months this year, doubling the figure from the same period last year.

And as if late payment and no access to insurance weren't bad enough, inflation - at nearly 22 percent year-on-year in October - continues to make life more expensive, these workers are also easily disposed of by their employers and can be fired any time for any reason.

A recent survey of industrial park workers by the HCMC Party Unit found that 66 percent of them suffer from anxiety due to unstable employment, low salary, and the increasing prices of basic commodities.

In a recent case, Dung a worker at a foreign company in HCMC's District 12 fainted and was hospitalized after being told to stand outside the office for hours. Earlier, Dung had asked for a day off for treatment of an illness. When she returned to work it was then announced that she would be fired immediately.

But instead of allowing her to work while the termination process commenced, Dung was forced to stand outside the office, or in a storage area, for days before the dismissal decision took effect.

Another case involves Le Thi Nguyet, a worker at LD garment company, who was fired when she was 7 months pregnant.

Nguyet was recruited in July last year but didn't sign a work contract. On August 24, the company told her that she would be dismissed two days later because of her pregnancy.

Though she had worked for the company for over a year, the firm refused to give her any social welfare or unemployment payments, and also refused her health insurance.

Nguyen Thi Anh Dao of the Labor Union Law Office in HCMC said Nguyet's company had seriously violated the Labor Law and that she could file a lawsuit for damages.

Nguyen Thi Hien of Nghe An Province quit her job at a factory in HCMC two years ago to take care of her children, and partly because of mistreatment by the company.

"When my four-year-old son was found to have blood cancer, the company urged workers to donate to help me," she said. "However, I only received VND3 million from the total donation of VND15 million that the company collected."

The family is living in a small house they rent in an alley off Bui Van Ba Street in District 7, but she spends much of her time at the hospital with her son. Her husband, a shipbuilding worker, had to find part time job to cover their expenses, after their savings of 15 years working dried out treating the child's disease.

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