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Monday, June 24, 2024

The other victims

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The life of workers in the unofficial sector is becoming more unstable than ever due to measures to freeze the economy to fight the coronavirus pandemic. They are also the people that Government support policies may hardly access.

Vietnam has entered the third month of the Covid-19 fight. The economy has been nearly frozen since early February for this endeavor, and with the complex situation turning more complex now, the standstill will prolong further.

The General Statistics Office reported that the gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter hit a 10-year low. The number of businesses suspending operations was 18,600, rising 26% from the year-earlier period, while the number of registered jobs at enterprises plunged 23.3%.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. These figures are from the official sector, with registered enterprises and workers. Their hardships can at least partly be eased with support packages recently announced by the Government.

Salaried workers receive unemployment benefits from the social insurance agency and employers. White-collar workers, despite a significant reduction in income, still have some savings to survive the tough time. In other words, the Covid-19 impoverishes them, but does not push them to the wall.

But the pandemic is truly a fatal blow to workers in the unofficial sector, people who work with no labor contracts and social insurance. They will not receive any support from unemployment insurance, medical insurance or their employers. With the suspension of more than five million household businesses nationwide, workers in the unofficial sector will lose the only source of income to make ends meet.

This is not to mention people working here and there on the streets of cities, such as peddlers, lottery sellers, motorbike taxi drivers and vegetable vendors. Traveling to many places and contacting many people without any protection measures, they are highly vulnerable to disease contagion. Does anybody see a shoeshine boy with a hand sanitizer spray? His customers naturally realize this, and since the Covid-19 breakout, his income has gone downhill.

The income has fallen to zero since early April when the Prime Minister ordered a suspension of non-essential services within at least two weeks, including services associated with the earnings of free laborers like lottery sale. This is a logical decision, as amid the danger of this once-in-a-century epidemic, protection of the life and health of people must be the top priority. However, how can those workers survive when they have no jobs, no savings, no income and no shelter?

Those who have families or relatives outside cities make an exodus there, an action somewhat risky for themselves and the community due to the danger of disease transmission. The situation is extremely tough for those who have no such retreats, or no financial capacity, and have to stay in cities with no income and temporary shelter.

Many joked that they would die of hunger before being killed by the Covid-19. This is no utopia. When the familiar food vendor does not appear in your alley, you can wonder where he or she is staying and what he or she is doing to make ends meet.

The vulnerability of workers in the unofficial sector has been discussed extensively in Vietnam over the past many years. The concept of “unofficial sector workers” was adopted by the General Statistics Office in 2016 when the agency reported that about 57% of the labor force in Vietnam, equivalent to 18 million people, was in the unofficial sector. The pandemic broke out when support policies for those laborers were still under discussion.

Some local authorities have provided prompt supports. HCMC is considering the shelters and health checks for more than 6,200 homeless people. Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Dao Ngoc Dung said the Government would consider loans of up to VND30 million with low interest rates for a free laborer. Still, the role of the Government is only a part, as the unofficial feature would make it not easy for free labors to access Government supports.

In times like the present, the role of the community and the spirit of mutual assistance are becoming more necessary than ever. In Vinh Long Province, the owner of a lottery ticket shop offers each lottery ticket seller VND50,000 per day to help them survive the tough time.

On social media, many organizations and individuals are calling for donations to help underprivileged people. The donations may not be large, but they come at the right moment and have significant meaning amid the tough time.

Besides patients bound to bed, the Covid-19 is exhausting the health of many people and the economy and causing discomfort for life. The fight against the Covid-19, therefore, is a twin combat to ensure the safety of the community amid the health danger and to help the most vulnerable people in society, so as we can keep not only physically healthy but also good human relations after the pandemic runs its full course.

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