Companies abuse female migrant workers

Many factory workers forced to do extra work without extra pay - and unions often take no action.

The fear of losing her job prevents Hoang Mai Khanh (not her real name) from asking the trade union at her company to lobby for her to earn extra pay for extra work.

Although she has been working at an electronics company which makes spare parts for four years, Khanh is o­nly paid VND1.7 million (US$94) a month.

The low wage is exaggerated by the decline in production due to the global economic crisis, which forced the wholly-invested Japanese company to lay off a number of employees, thereby putting even more pressure o­n the remaining labourers, such as Khanh, to do more work.

Khanh says she has been asked to finish 200 spare parts each day, an increase of 80 compared with previous years. The extra work is forcing her to spend between two and four hours extra each day to finish the output target. She has yet to receive any additional money.

"Hard work makes me feel worn-out after every shift," she said in a low voice. "I never go anywhere and rarely watch TV or listen to the radio. I just go straight to sleep."

The heavy work-load has caused the 23-year-old woman to lose weight, and since she has to use a microscope constantly in her work, her vision is getting poorer.

In the back of her mind, Khanh wants to tell the trade union about her situation but she is also afraid of losing her job.

"There are trade union members who are also in charge of supervising personnel issues at the company," she says. "But they support the employers."

Khanh is not alone. It is common for the more than 20,000 migrant labourers working in the Bac Thang Long Industrial Zone to spend between 10 and 12 hours daily at work. Many have faced salary cuts.

This is true for Ha Thi Minh (not her real name), 19, who says she has to work 12 hours a day but suffers from a 30 per cent decrease in her salary compared with the beginning of last year.

"I spend two thirds of my salary o­n housing, food, electricity and water. I send the rest home to support my family," Minh says.

Although living a hard life, most labourers do not want to request a pay hike or less work hours for fear of losing their jobs, according to Dong Anh District’s War Veteran’s Association President Trinh Xuan Lap.

Lap’s remark coincides with a report jointly conducted this year by Actionaid and the Centre for Co-operation in Human Resources Development, which found that 60 per cent of 1,590 migrant female workers continued to receive the same salary despite claims from the enterprises that they had raised salaries in the first six months of this year.

Salary cuts

The report, which was released yesterday, cited that 18 per cent of female migrant workers had experienced significant salary cuts.

With an aim of determining the effects of the economic crisis o­n the lives and jobs of female migrant workers in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, the report indicated that most of the payments earned by labourers did not match the time and effort they exerted in their work.

Because it is difficult to find new jobs with a higher salary and better working conditions, labour disputes at the majority of enterprises have cooled off, according to the report.

"Most labourers in my group do not know who the trade union members are in my company," says Nguyen Lan Hanh (not her real name). "We o­nly hear about the trade union when the organisation collects its fees every month."

As many as 24 per cent of female migrant workers surveyed have yet to join the trade union at their company. When asked why, most of them said the unions had not brought any practical benefits, nor had they approached the labourers.

According to Nguyen Thi Lan Huong, director of the Labour Science Institute under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, it is impossible to protect the interests of labourers if trade unions do not promote their role of protecting workers and raising awareness among the labourers about their duties and rights.

Statistics released by the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour reveal that about 144 strikes were held across the country in the first six months of this year, equal to 40 per cent of the same period last year.

The reasons behind the strikes were mainly due to a failure among enterprises to strictly implement regulations for salary, social insurance, working conditions and extra working hours.

The absence of trade unions has given enterprises a free hand to violate the social insurance rule.

The report indicated enterprises typically paid a lower rate for social insurance for their labourers than regulations required. Under existing regulations, employers must pay social insurance based o­n the net salary of the worker.

However, the report found that most labourers surveyed had social insurance deducted from their salaries for their retirement pensions based o­n minimum wage or the amount indicated o­n their signed contracts.

By revealing the effects of the economic crisis o­n female migrant labourers, Actionaid and the Centre for Co-operation in Human Resources Development also want the report to become an effective tool for policymakers to develop measures to help these labourers overcome difficulties.

When asked what changes she expects, Hoang Mai Khanh replies: "We want accommodation, electricity and water fees to be reduced in accordance with our current decreased salary."

Hong Thuy