Friday , May 24 2024

No jobs, little money, meager Tet cheer for unemployed workers

Barely making ends meet, many laid-off workers in HCMC are bracing for a Tet devoid of its usual cheer, but are also hoping and praying for a better year ahead.

Nguyen Thi Huyen intends to cook a pot of braised meat and a pot of bitter gourd soup as her meal for the first three days of Tet, which starts Feb. 1 this year.

“I hope eating bitter gourd will end all the bad luck and help me find a job after Tet,” the 36-year-old woman said.

Huyen used to work for a plastic-making factory. She has been unemployed for nearly a year now after her company shut down. She couldn’t find a new job since she got laid off right when she was pregnant.

She said that at that time, her husband still had a job so the family could still manage to stay afloat and she planned to find a job after her son was six months old. But he also lost his job after the fourth Covid wave struck Vietnam last April.

When the city re-opened last October, she stayed at home to take care of her baby and her 7-year-old daughter since in-person classes had not resumed.

More than a month ago, her husband got a job at a mechanical company in District 5 with a monthly salary of VND7 million (around $308).

About 20 days ago, when she received her husband’s first paycheck, she immediately spent VND2.5 million to pay for rent, VND1 million to buy diapers and milk for her children, and set aside an amount for her husband to pay for gas, leaving her with just around VND2 million left to spend on food for her family of four.

Tet is right around the corner but I do not dare to think about making any preparations since we don’t have any money to spare.”

Though she has spent five Tet holidays away from home, she said this was the toughest one yet because of the Covid wrought economic hardships.

Nguyen Thi Huyen (L) prepares food for the year-end party with her neighbor on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Nguyen Thi Huyen (L) prepares food for a year-end party with her neighbor on Jan. 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tuyet

Huyen’s worries were partly relieved when her husband said that his company would pay some bonus for people to spend during Tet.

So she and the neighbors recently held a small year-end party, with each household contributing a dish.

“Everyone is trying to stay optimistic and wishing good things will come next year,” Huyen said.

Painful separation

More than five km from Huyen’s house, Huynh Thi Thuy, 43, still hasn’t decided whether to spend the Tet holiday in the city or back home in the central province of Binh Dinh.

Thuy used to work for a shoe-making company, but was let go in mid-2020 since the factory only wanted to keep much younger employees in better health. She then became a helper at a restaurant with a monthly income of more than VND5 million.

In the middle of last year, Go Vap was the first district to apply the stay-at-home order, which stripped Thuy of the job she had found. She remains unemployed until now.

When the city lifted social distancing, her husband got a job carrying bricks for a store selling construction materials with a monthly income of VND7 million.

After receiving the salary, they sent VND1.5 million to families back home so the relatives could take care of their 12-year-old son and spent another VND2.5 million on rent. She used the remaining to cover the family’s daily expenses.

Huynh Thi Thuy receives financial support from benefactors in 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Huynh Thi Thuy receives some financial support from benefactors in 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Because of financial hardships and Covid fears, her husband doesn’t want to go back to his hometown on this Tet holiday while she misses her kid, especially after a year of separation.

If her husband can get some extra payment before Tet, Thuy will try to catch the last bus heading home in order to see her son.

“I might have to accept spending Tet away from my son if my husband doesn’t get the bonus.”

Like Huyen and Thuy, more than a million workers are staying back in the city for Tet because of lost jobs, reduced income, and concerns about quarantine regulations in different localities.

This year, the number of workers staying in HCMC is estimated to increase by 30 percent year-on-year.

According to the General Statistics Office, workers in Ho Chi Minh City have an average monthly income of just VND5.8 million at present, the lowest in recent years. The unemployment rate in the city has increased to 8.5 percent.

A woman shops at a ze-dong supermarket organized by Ho Chi Minh City Fatherland Front Committee. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

People shop at a zero-dong supermarket organized by Ho Chi Minh City Fatherland Front Committee. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

To support struggling households, the city has organized many programs, allocating about VND1.8 trillion to help people in need during Tet. Of this, VND900 billion will go towards supporting poor households with each family receiving gifts worth VND1.15-3.1 million.

HCMC has also spent more than VND700 billion to support workers in difficult circumstances. The Ho Chi Minh City Fatherland Front Committee has mobilized about VND200 billion to help the workers in poor neighborhoods, the elderly and orphaned children affected by the pandemic.

Ho Xuan Lam, Vice President of the Ho Chi Minh City Labor Confederation, said that in addition to the support from the government and different organizations, many district unions are planning to hold year-end parties and hand out gifts to workers not returning to their hometown during this Tet holiday.

This is not much comfort for Thuy.

“My husband and I are used to suffering, but we are afraid that our son in the countryside will be sad because he has been away from his parents for so long.”

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