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					POST-SOCIALIST TRADE UNIONS, LOW PAY AND DECENT WORK




              ANALYTICAL REPORT


  Migrant Workers in the Industrial Sector




                              By Do Quynh Chi and Tran Thanh Ha




                    Hanoi, July 2008




                                                              1
Introduction
Migrant labour makes up over eighty percent of the labour force of industrial centers of
Vietnam and migrant workers who remain temporarily in the destination (without permanent
residence registration) account for sixty percent of the industrial labour force1. After Vietnam
recovered from the Asian financial crisis in the early 2000s, there was an upward trend of
migration to the industrial sector, particularly to the export-oriented industrial parks.
Migration to the industrial zones, then, was regarded as an optimum outlet for the unskilled,
under-employed labour in the rural areas of Vietnam. Since then, migrant workers have
played an important role in the growth and sustainability of the industrial sector of Vietnam.
However, apart from the quantitative surveys of the State on the changes in number of
migrants, little has been know about these workers – why they migrate; what are their
expectations; how they adjust themselves to the industrial working conditions; how they
arrange their lives at the host community? Understanding of these questions is crucial to
explain recent phenomena including wildcat strikes, high labour turnover, and permanent
shortage of unskilled labour in the manufacturing sector and somehow illuminate a plausible
solution.

The research undertaken is based on in-depth interviews with migrant workers in various
types of enterprises in Hanoi. Expectedly, it was almost impossible to access to workers
through employers and union leaders. A union leader, for example, asked us to give her a
detailed list of questions to workers and limited our access to the most loyal workers who
would not say anything “bad” about the company. After several unsuccessful trials, we
decided to approach workers by another way. We happened to have contacts with a worker
participating in a UN project in Hanoi. After explaining our study to her, we were introduced
to her friends who are also migrant workers in the city who lead us to other workers. With
this snow-ball technique of recruitment, we were able to interview over twenty migrant
workers for the study. Also, we attempted to keep a balance in our selection of participants to
include both male and female, married and single migrants, those working for industrial parks
and those employed by private and state-owned enterprises in anticipation that their concerns
and conditions may be different. To fit in with the informants’ time schedule, we had to
arrange meetings at their rented rooms close to their factories either before or after their
working shifts.




1
    Source: VGCL report at the Conference on Directive 22 of the Politburo, in Ho Chi Minh city, June 2008

                                                                                                             2
The research will focus on three major aspects of a migrant worker: motivations and
expectations for migration (migration decision); conditions and relations at work; and living
conditions in the host community.

The research comes up with the following findings:
   - Potential job seekers in the rural areas do not have access to formal recruitment
       information. Consequently, they are vulnerable to the manipulation of job brokers.
   - Due to the traditional discrimination between sons and daughters in the countryside,
       men often have better education and thus, better job opportunities with higher pay and
       working conditions than women.
   - Migrant workers working for industrial zones concentrate in workers’ villages where
       they set up informal network with one another to share information about wages,
       benefits, jobs, and even strikes. These worker communities have been the foundation
       for waves of wildcat strikes in the last few years.
   -   Given their disadvantaged situation, migrant workers are most sensitive to changes in
       wages and benefits. But whether or not their resistance becomes a collective action
       depends on the existence of effective leadership.
   -   Poor working conditions and low pay in the industrial sector are driving migrants to
       look for jobs in the domestic private sector, particularly the service industry where
       they receive higher pay but no social protection.




                                                                                           3
OVERVIEW OF DOMESTIC MIGRATION IN VIETNAM

There have been two opposite trends of domestic migration in Vietnam after the Vietnam
War ended in 1975. Prior to the launch of Doimoi policy in the late 1980s, domestic
migration was organised by the State in the so-called “re-settlement campaign” to move
people from the populated lowland areas like the Red river delta and Mekong river delta to
the highlands. The release of State intervention into domestic migration in the early 1990s
facilitated a turn-over of the domestic migration flow. The economic reform has boosted
growth unevenly, with high concentration in the urban areas, resulting in increasing income
disparity with the rural areas. According to the General Statistics Office, the income gap
between the richest population quintile and the poorest quintile increased from 7.3 in 1996 to
9.0 in 2002 and the difference between the average income of the richest region and the
poorest grew from 2.1 times in 1996 to 3.1 in 2002. In the mean time, population has been
growing at a much faster rate in the rural areas than in the urban areas while the peasants
have few available alternative livelihoods. The underemployment rate in the agricultural
areas was over 16% in 2006 (GSO, 2006).

As a result, the flow of migration has turned to the opposite direction, from lower-developed
to higher-developed regions and this number of migrants has increased sharply. There are
three major flows of migration in Vietnam:
       1. Migration from the Mekong river delta, Northern mountainous area, and Red river
            delta to the South eastern region where the industrialization rate is highest in the
            country.
       2. Migration from the Northern mountainous area to the Red river delta.
       3. Migration from the Central coast, Northern mountainous area, and the Red river
            delta to the Central Highlands where industrial farms are developing fast.

According to the 2004 Migration Survey by the GSO, the most dominating reason for
migration is the economic reason (see Table 1).
                            Table 1: Reasons for Migration by Gender
      Reasons for Migration        Male                   Female                Total
      Economic                     70.8                   66.9                  68.6
      Education                    5.8                    3.6                   4.5
      Family                       9.1                    19.2                  14.9
      Others                       14.3                   10.2                  12
       Source: GSO (2006)




                                                                                              4
The domestic private sector has always been the biggest employer of migrant workers with
50.8% of migrants working in this area. The State-owned sector remains the second largest
employer though the proportion of migrants working for this sector is decreasing. The FDI
sector is currently employing only 21.52% of migrants but their ranking is improving fast
(see Table 2).
                                  Table 2: Employers of Migrants, 2002-2006
                                                                                                    Unit: Percent
                   Employers                              2002              2004               2006
                   State-owned Companies                 48.52              39.00              28.29
                   Domestic              Private         36.65              42.90              50.18
                   Companies
                   Foreign-invested                      14.84              18.11              21.52
                   Companies


The residence registration system (ho khau) of Vietnam is loosely administered, leaving
almost 90% of migrants unregistered to the local authority without any punishment.
However, the industrial regions where workers migrate to offer little infrastructure and
supporting services for them. Dormitories built by enterprises accommodate only 2% of
migrant workers while the rest live in concentration in surrounding areas where they have to
pay high rents and face with poor security and lack of basic social services.


MIGRANT WORKERS IN INDUSTRIAL SECTOR IN HANOI

How Workers Migrate?
According to the survey on migration in Hanoi in 2000 by the Population and Labour Force
Center of MOLISA, migrants accounted for 35.6% of the population growth of the city. 51%
of permanent migrants2 moved to the city for economic reason while this figure among
temporary migrants is 80%. Three fourths of migrants are young, from 20-39 years old.
82.6% of temporary migrants originate from agricultural background. Migrants to Hanoi
come from neighbouring provinces in the Red River delta including Thai Binh, Thanh Hoa,
Thai Nguyen, Vinh Phuc, Phu Tho, Yen Bai, among others.

While poverty and lack of employment opportunities in the agricultural areas are the common
reasons for migration, normally women have to drop out from school to start looking for jobs


2
    Permanent migrants are those who finally settle down in the city and register their permanent ho khau here
Temporary migrants go to the city to work or study for a certain period of time and keep their permanent ho
khau registered to their home town.

                                                                                                                 5
much earlier than men. In a typical case, Tam, one of our informants, dreamt of going to the
university after high school but as her younger brother is going to school at the same time and
her parents can not afford education for both of them, she was asked to give up her dream to
look for a job in Hanoi to support her family. Another worker, Bao, has two older brothers
and she is the youngest child in the family but she voluntarily dropped out from school to
look for a job: “then, both of my brothers were going to the technical schools. It was really a
burden for my parents. I’m not very good at studying either so I decided to stop [going to
school] and look for a job to support them”, she said. Gender discrimination has been deeply
rooted in Vietnamese culture and while this tradition is gradually fading away in the cities, it
still significantly influences the decision of poorer families in the agricultural areas to
prioritize sons over daughters to further education. Without proper skills and education,
female migrants who have to stop their education early have few job opportunities but low-
paid, manual work in the cities.

In rural villages where each person has only 0.2 hectares for agricultural production and few
alternative livelihoods3, there are plenty of young people seriously want to find jobs in the
city but they do not have access to recruitment information. They do not have access to
newspapers or the internet while television is limited to better-off families. Against the
official statistics which claim that 70 percent of migrants refer to employment service centers
to find jobs, actually, all of our informants either found jobs through friends or relatives
working in the city or through job brokers.

The employment service system in Vietnam remains underdeveloped. Under MOLISA’s
administration, there are 153 employment service centers nationwide. These centers receive
meagre resources from the State while their charges on employment services are lowly
capped by the labour authority. Circular 95 issued by MOLISA provides a limit of three
dollars per person for fee charging job seekers and ten dollars per worker for fee charging
employers. With limited resources, employment service centers can hardly maintain
sufficient staff to reach out to remote provinces for recruitment.

Given the underdeveloped network of employment service centers, the flow of recruitment
information between the city and sources of labour in the neighbouring regions has been
practically maintained (and manipulated) by an informal network of brokers. These brokers
are migrants themselves who have been working in the city. When they have information
about recruitment needs of companies in Hanoi, they get back to home villages to recruit


3
 Industrialization concentrates in 7 bigger cities and provinces of the country while the remaining 57 provinces
are mainly agricultural.

                                                                                                              6
workers. The brokers arbitrarily charge the job-seekers at incredibly high rates compared to
the official fee limit. Our informants said they had to pay from 500 thousand dong (35
dollars) to 6 million dong (400 dollars) to the brokers. Apart from the recruitment
information, they rarely tell workers the truth about what to expect from the jobs they are
applying for. After helping workers with filing the application form, brokers take them to the
city where workers finally find out that companies do not charge workers at all for
recruitment.


Life at the Community
Before 2005, dormitories for workers were extremely limited. According to the VGCL Center
of Labour and Workers, the dormitories of industrial parks in the whole country could
accommodate merely 2% of migrant workers. After 2005, when workers started to walk out
more frequently, the lack of accommodation for migrant workers became a serious concern
for the union and the authority. In the annual meeting between the Prime Minister and VGCL
in early 2007, the Prime Minister required the investment and planning authority to provide
incentives for enterprises to build dormitories for their workers. In Hanoi, the city authority
has just finished the first dormitory for workers in the Thang Long Industrial park. However,
living in the dormitories is not a prime choice for workers in the industrial zones. First,
though the rent is slightly cheaper than outside, workers are strictly controlled in terms of
time they can get in or out of the dormitory and they have to report to the guards if they take
friends to their rooms. Most workers, therefore, opt for accommodation outside.

Migrant workers often concentrate in certain villages close to their factories. These villages
are called workers’ villages (lang cong nhan). Normally two to three workers would live in a
room of 10-15m2 that costs 20-30 dollars/month. Each landlord maintains 10-20 such rooms
built on their yard, offering two bathrooms for all tenants. Cooking is done inside each room.

A worker may choose to share room with workers in the same company or those who come
from the same province. These villages are for workers (including team leaders) only while
the white-collar workers and managers either live downtown or rent houses in more affluent
suburbs.

Living in such concentration, workers know exactly how much other companies in the
industrial zone are paying. In the early 2008, when a new Japanese electronic company
offered the same base salary but better allowances to recruit workers, it immediately created a
wave of workers quitting other companies in the zone to apply for the new company. To
prevent such a competition, the employers in the zone agreed with each other on a common
payment for rank-and-file workers. Payment in the zone is just the same. If a company pays
                                                                                             7
higher base salary, they pay lower allowances while other companies pay lower base salary
but offer more allowances, a worker explained to us. The workers’ village has facilitated the
growth of an informal network among migrant workers which would easily create a knock-on
effect in case of strike. This explains why workers in the industrial zone were able to initiate
waves of strikes in the last few years.

Workers of companies located outside of industrial zones, however, do not live in such
concentration. Industrial zones are located in unpopulated areas in suburbs far away from the
city centers. They are surrounded by agricultural villages where peasants have land to build
up a large number of rooms for rent. Companies outside the industrial zones are located in
different suburbs of the city where the shortage of rooms for rent does not allow workers to
live in a large community like the workers’ village. Therefore, though strikes may happen
here or there among these companies, it can hardly create a knock-on effect that turns out into
a wave of strikes.


Life at the Factories
This section will discuss two issues: working conditions in the industrial sector and the
adjustment/resistance of migrant workers.


Working Conditions
      Case 1: Working conditions of a female worker at a Privatised Garment Company
       T is in her early 20s. She comes from a peasant family in Nghe An, a poor province in the Central of
       Vietnam. T dreamt of going to the university after high school but the sudden death of her father, the
       breadwinner of the family, destroyed her hope as her mother was unable to afford her study any more.
       She decided to look for a job to support her mother and the younger brother who, then, was attending
       high school. A relative promised to find her a job at a famous garment company in Hanoi. When she
       arrived in the city, a broker told her to pay 500 thousand dong ($35) to be admitted to the textile
       training center of the company. She later found out that some other friends had to pay as much as 3
       million. She only discovered that was a cheat when her teacher warned them to avoid brokers and that
       they do not have to pay any extra fee apart from tuition fee. After the course, she was sent to Factory 2
       to work in the detail section.
       The garment company T was working for was privatised from a 60-year-old SOE. Vietgarment lay off
       approximately 30% of old workers after privatization and since then has increased labour force to
       8,000 by recruiting young migrant labour. The company is a supplier to a number of American and
       Japanese MNCs. With materials and designs provided by the buyers, Vietgarment only assembles and
       finishes the products before exporting them overseas.
       T was assigned to work in the collar-sewing section of the detail team. The team consists of 25
       workers, headed by a 43 year-old female team leader who receives monthly salary rather than
       piecework-based wages of workers. Ten workers in the team remain from the pre-equitization period;
       the rest are newly recruited young female migrant workers. These two groups of workers in the team
       are a generation apart in terms of age: the former age from 40 to over 50, while all of the latter are
       under 25. The whole team is spread across over 10 parts; each consists of 2 workers specializing in one
       step in the production line, for instance: matching the up and down leaves of chemise collar, sewing the
       two leaves together, fixing the collar to the body etc.


                                                                                                              8
Work pressure is intense and the standard of productivity increases all the time. After finishing a
package of 100 pieces, a worker has to swipe a card at his/her own machine which reports back to the
supervisor’s computer. The productivity of each worker is checked every hour and workers who cause
any mistake or slow-down that affects the overall productivity of the shift would be publicly blamed
via the loudspeakers of the factory. This method of control and punishment has left an immediate and
lasting mental impact on workers: No one likes to hear their names on the loudspeakers. It became a
scary thing for us. I still woke up in the middle of the night, sweating when in dreams I heard my names
from the loudspeakers, T remembered in bitterness. Productivity pressure also creates tension among
workers in the same line because if a worker makes a mistake in the previous part, she will slow down
the workers in the later parts. T told me that the most frequent job of the team leader was to settle fight
and quarrel among workers in the team: Quarrel and fight happened all the time. A worker in the later
part would slash at the worker in the previous section if the latter makes a mistake. They even threw
cloth on the other’s face.
Workers are paid by piece work. For a worker like T, when she started in 2006, for every 100 collars
she made, she earned 72 points. The daily production target was around 500 collars which she could
hardly finish in one shift (each shift lasts for 10 hours) and normally had to return to the factory in the
next shift to finish up the job. Her overtime work is paid at the normal rate, no matter if it is carried out
at night or day. Generally, her monthly income composes of:
          1. Wages: $2/day x 26 days = $52
          2. Attendance bonus (no day off): 15% x $52 = $7.8
          3. Social insurance contribution: $3/month
          Total income: $52 + $7.8 - $3 = $56.8/month
In Vietnam, the legal overtime limit is 300 hours per year which most garment companies can hardly
keep up to. At night shift, we worked from 2 pm to midnight but many times we had to work till 2 am. In
those cases, the team leader would collect our attendance cards and swipe at the gate before 11.30 pm.
so that when labour inspectors come to check, they would not have any problem, T said. When work
piles up, we have to work overtime to finish the job before it is passed on to the next production line. I
finished night shift at 1 or 2 am. then returned to the factory at 7 the next morning and worked until 11
am then went home. But in the high season, sometimes I stayed working after lunch too.


Case 2: Working conditions of a female worker at a foreign-owned electronic
company
H came from a small village 200km to the North of Hanoi. After her mother died and her father was
paralysed, H and her older brothers dropped out from school to start working. A friend working for an
electronic company in Hanoi encouraged her to apply for a job in the company. After two weeks’
training in the company’s rules, H started working in the punching team. The job is simple. It took her
one week to familiarise with the work pace and one month to achieve the optimum productivity. The
team consists of 15 workers, all of whom are in their early 20s. The team leader joined the company
just one year earlier than H. Team leaders are also workers, H said and there is no difference in terms
of treatment between workers and their team leaders. But technicians and engineers are different. They
are not workers. Many members in the team have finally moved to live together. I like people in the
team. Actually, I think they are the only source of joy for me at work.
H has to work from 7pm to 7am. In these twelve hours, workers have to stand to work on the
production line. They have one 45-minute break for supper and two short intervals, each of 7minutes to
sit down. There are two toilets at the workshop but they are often locked. If a worker wants to go to the
restroom, they have to wave a flag and wait until the team leaders come to substitute them. Each time,
a worker has 5 minutes which, H complained, is not enough for her to change uniform, go to the toilet,
then get into the uniform again. When there is no work, workers have to stand in the yellow circle.
They are not allowed to talk or get out of the circle without the management’s permission. Workers
also have to remember 99 rules of the company such as wearing uniform, no food inside the factory,
leaving the company immediately after work shift etc. Violation of the rules may result in fines or even
dismissal. Wages are paid by working hours. Wages are set slightly higher than the legal minimum
wage. Workers’ wages are reviewed annually but the wage increase is small. With two years’
experience, H receives 1.2 million dong/month ($80) while the new recruit gets 1 million/month ($65).


                                                                                                           9
       The union provides sickness leave and marriage gifts for members. Rather than meeting people to
       deliver gifts, the union transfer money to workers’ accounts after receiving their requests for payment.
       As a result, though H knows the name of the union leader, she has never met him.


       Case 3: Working conditions of a male worker at a foreign-own electronic company
       After high school, Son entered a vocational training center to learn mechanics. After one and a half
       years, he graduated and found job in this electronic company as a worker at the maintenance
       department. Each mechanic is in charge of one production line though they have to report to the head
       of the department about the technical problems they deal with. Members in Son’s department,
       therefore, are independent of one another.
       Son receives a fixed monthly salary of 3 million dong/month ($200) which is revised annually on the
       basis of the manager’s evaluation of his performance. Last year, his salary was raised by 20% (the
       highest raise in his department was 30%). The work pressure for Son is different from that for
       production workers. I have to work hard to get higher salary but the management can not force me.
       You can not force a mechanic to fix a machine like you force production workers in the line.
       Son and his wife are expecting their first child in a few months. That for him means working harder at
       the factory and extra work at home. He has been repairing television and radios for people in the
       neighbourhood to earn some more money to support his wife who is not going to work in the next one
       or two years and their kid. My salary is higher than that of production workers but I have to support
       the whole family. I like my job at the factory but the salary is not enough so I have to do extra work at
       home, he said.


The female workers in the first two cases suffer from intense work pressure, low pay, and bad
working conditions. Both of them are still single; yet, they have to struggle to make ends
meet in the city with their wages. My wage is just enough for rent, electricity, water, and
food. I have no saving to send home for my parents. This is not the job I want to do for long
but I have no better choice at the moment, a worker told us. The working conditions in the
SOEs are supposed to be better than in other companies. But as the first case shows, the SOE,
like other companies in the industry, has become an assembler for overseas MNCs and their
profit, therefore, relies heavily on low labour cost. As a result, the SOE has adopted the HR
practices of private companies to reduce labour cost and raise productivity. However, low
pay and bad working conditions result in non-commitment of workers to the companies.
Expectedly, the turnover rates of these two companies are high, ranging from 40%-60%.
With better skills, the male mechanic enjoys higher pay and better working conditions. Still,
he can not support his family with such salary and has to take up a second job to earn extra
money. However, he remains more committed to the job than the other two female workers.


Adjustment/Resistance
It is not a coincidence that wildcat strikes became more prevalent when enterprises run into
labour shortage and inflation rate increases. The economic boom of Vietnam after it acceded
to the WTO in 2006, particularly the surge of foreign investment has resulted in labour
shortage in the industrialised regions. This labour market situation gives workers more
bargaining power. In the mean time, the increase of inflation rate to over 25 percent y.o.y in
the first half of 2008 further lowered workers’ real income. More than any one else, migrant
workers are affected first and most seriously by hyperinflation.




                                                                                                             10
It should be noted, however, that while strikes exploded in industrial zones, particularly
among the foreign-invested firms, only a small number of strikes occurred in the domestic
companies outside even though workers receive similar pay and working conditions. Apart
from the factor of workers’ community as discussed earlier, it seems the presence or lack of
workers’ leadership also plays a crucial role in determining whether or not workers opt to go
on strike. We first contacted a group of workers working for different Japanese companies in
an industrial park in Hanoi. There was a wave of strikes among enterprises in this industrial
park in April 2008. The common demand of strikers was to raise income (salary and
allowances) in face of hyper-inflation. Apart from going on strike, workers in some
companies filed complaints all together to ask for wage increase. A worker described to us
how they were able to coordinate such collective action:
       That was when the company announced the new wage increase. The raise was too small. If a worker
       gets D (the lowest level of performance evaluation), she will receive only five thousand dong more.
       Working for one year and get just five thousand dong. Everyone was angry. We saw messages written
       on the toilet walls that we should write complaints to demand for higher wages; if they [the
       management] do not agree, we will go on strike. So we started talking to our team leaders. The team
       leaders discussed among themselves then they told us that we should write and file complaints in one
       night only to make sure that production is not affected. That night, my team leader gave us a sample
       complaint and we all wrote our own complaints. But she did not write complaint because she did not
       want to be affected. Then, she brought all complaints to the HR department.


On the surface, the team leaders in this case play a coordinating role and avoid showing their
direct involvement into the collective action of workers to the management by not writing
complaints. But clearly, the workers’ action could not have succeeded without the team
leaders’ support and leadership.


In a similar situation when workers’ anger ran high, without effective leadership, they were
unable to initiate collective actions. Following is the extract of our interview with a worker
who used to work for a domestic garment company:
       -         In the last two years when you were working for the company, was there any major
                 complaint from workers?
       -         The biggest complaint when I was there was probably when the company reduce the
                 standard time for production. It was in the end of 2006, I think, the company wanted to push
                 workers to work faster. They sent people from the research department to re-measure our
                 average time for completion of 100 pieces. I think our time was the same but they deducted
                 the time for drinking water, going to the toilet, and carrying cloth from the floor to the
                 machine. That’s why the average time for completion of one package of chemise dropped
                 by a half, according to the measurement. The factory announced that they would reduce the
                 piece rate from 72 points for every 100 pieces to 35 points. This aroused a rage of reaction
                 among all workers in the factory.
       -         Did the union say anything about the time reduction?
       -         The union representative of our team is also a worker so she strongly opposed this reduction
                 of piece rate but she dared not do anything because her immediate union supervisor is the
                 chief of the shift. You know, he was the one most enthusiastic about time reduction.
       -         How about the enterprise union leader?
       -         I never met her. She was only in her office and never came to our factory. I knew her name
                 because I saw her signature in the union announcements that our union representative gave
                 us to read.


                                                                                                          11
       -         And how about your team leader?
       -         The time reduction has nothing to do with her. Her salary is fixed and her bonus depends on
                 our productivity. She kept silent about our complaints. But I think behind us, she reported to
                 the managers what we talked about.
       -         Why didn’t you go on strike?

       -         I don’t know. My friends in the South told me that they would go on strike if the employers
                 failed to raise wage on the promised date. I think companies in the South are more
                 democratic
       -         But if someone had asked you to join them to go on strike, would you?
       -         Yes, I would (giggled). But no one stood up and we were too scared to do anything.


The team leaders who often act as informal leaders of workers in other companies have been
divided from workers in the above case. Their interests are not the same, if not contradictory
to those of workers. Not only do they turn away from workers, team leaders became effective
“spies” of the management on their team members. We can imagine that if a potential leader
emerges among rank-and-file workers, s/he will quickly be identified by the team leaders
who would let the management know.


When “voice” is not a possible option, workers tend to turn to “exit”. The domestic company
mentioned above lost hundreds of workers after their adjustment of production time. Until
now, they still lack around one thousand workers. The problem of labour shortage for the
foreign-owned company in the first example was less serious but their turnover rate is high
(over 40%) and it is becoming much more difficult to recruit new workers now.


Stay or Go? The Road ahead for Migrant Workers
Though working conditions in the industrial factories are poor, returning to their home
villages is rarely the choice of the migrants we interviewed. First, they have few job
opportunities except agricultural work. Second, their return which is considered a failure will
taint the pride of their families. For some female workers, if they return home when they are
already over 20 years old, their chance of finding a husband is limited because the average
age of marriage in the countryside is 18-20 for women. Migrant workers, therefore, either
have to adjust themselves to the harsh conditions at work and try to improve them through
collective actions, look for a better job, or further education in the hope of upgrading
themselves in the labour market.


Most of our interviewees, men and women alike, are learning another degree after work.
Some are learning English or Japanese to get promotion in their current jobs; some are
learning accounting or engineering to find better white-collar jobs. If I don’t study more, I
will be a worker forever, a worker told us. These workers remain in their jobs despite the
harsh conditions and put all their savings into education in the hope that the degrees they earn
will give them better employment opportunities in the future.




                                                                                                            12
At the same time, we also observe a trend of workers shifting away from the industrial sector
to the domestic private sector, particularly the household businesses, and small enterprises
where they are paid higher but have no social and health insurance. One of the informants
who quit a textile company a few months ago to work for a restaurant in Hanoi explained:
           Working at the restaurant is hard too. I have to work from 7am till midnight, sometimes until 1 or
           2 in the morning. I have to serve tables, do cleaning and washing. But I still prefer this job to the
           last one because they pay me better. My salary now is 1.3 million plus tips. In the last job, I earned
           only 900 thousand dong in total. But the restaurant owner does not pay social insurance for us. But
           it is okay. I also like people here [working in the restaurant]. We are close and friendly to each
           other.
Recently, manufacturing enterprises have been facing with severe labour shortage despite the
fact that rural workers keep rushing to the industrialised areas. With the fast growth of the
domestic private sector which now provides 50 percent of employment in the formal
economy and the informal economy which comprises mostly household businesses and micro
enterprises, the flow of migrant labour has been quickly absorbed. These enterprises offer
better income for workers but often ignore social protection including OSH protective
measures, social and health insurance.


Conclusion
Migrant labour is the back bone of the labour-intensive industrial sector in Vietnam at the
moment; however, migrant workers are extremely vulnerable to low pay, poor working and
living conditions. Unless improvement of working and living conditions for migrant workers
is made, labour conflicts will keep rising, the industrial sector will run into permanent
shortage of labour, and migrants themselves will be exposed to work-related risks in the
informal sector. The labour authority and the union are focusing on settling wildcat strikes
and developing dormitories for workers. These measures, unfortunately, will only address the
symptoms rather than the root of the problem. Provision of accurate recruitment information
to potential job-seekers in the destination areas, arrangement for safe migration, effective
representation of workers at work, and improvement of living conditions for workers are all
necessary to support migrant workers as well as to ensure the labour supply for the industries.




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