The Social Impacts of the Global Economic Crisis on Day Labourers in Mobile Labour Markets in Ha Noi: A rapid assessment report | Oxfam

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For this study of the social impacts of the global economic crisis, evidence of recent employment trends and social conditions was gathered through interviews and focus group discussions with casual labourers at five labour markets in Ha Noi. Six key findings have been extrapolated: wages per day worked rose in late 2008
    Oxfam Discussion Paper    The  Social Impacts of the Global Economic Crisis  on Day Labourers in Mobile Labour  Markets in Ha Noi    A rapid assessment report   Dinh Thi Thu Phuong (Ageless Consulting)   Research consultants for the Viet Nam Academy of Social   Sciences, with support from Oxfam GB and the World Bank 1   July 2010   For this study of the social impacts of the global economic crisis, evidence of recent employment trends and social conditions was  gathered through interviews and focus group discussions with casual labourers at five labour markets in Ha Noi. Six key findings have been extrapolated: wages per day worked rose in late 2008; however, demand for casual labour has dropped heavily, so that earnings have    generally fallen; cost of living for casual workers has risen sharply; the two preceding findings have caused socioeconomic problems for casual workers and their families including unpayable debt and children having to leave education; the social capital of casual labourers is  generally high; few casual labourers have much expectation of finding alternative sources of income.   Oxfam Discussion Papers   Oxfam Discussion Papers are written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and humanitarian policy issues. They are ’work in progress’ documents, and do not necessarily constitute final publications or reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views and recommendations expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam. For more information, or to comment on this paper, email    1. Characteristics of day labourers   For the purposes of this research, the authors conducted quick surveys in five mobile labour markets (cho lao dong) in inner Ha Noi in April 2009. ã   Buoi market: the majority of the people looking for work here come from Yen Thanh district, Nghe An province; the rest come from Thanh Hoa and Dong Anh, a suburban district of Ha Noi. ã   Giang Vo market: most of the day laborers in Giang Vo market come from Nam Dinh, Thai Binh and Thanh Hoa provinces. ã   My Dinh overpass market: the job seekers in this place are mainly resident in Phuc Tho district, Ha Noi. Most of them ride their bicycles nearly 60 kilometres every day to get to My Dinh market and wait for work. ã   Pham Ngoc Thach market: The majority of the people seeking work in this market are from Nong Cong district, Thanh Hoa province. ã   Long Bien market: Being the biggest fruit and vegetable wholesale market in Ha Noi, Long Bien market is the venue of many manual workers from a wide range of provinces such as Thai Binh, Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa and Nghe An, but the majority are from neighbouring provinces to Ha Noi like Vinh Phuc and Hung Yen. The people standing and looking for casual employment in these labour markets usually collect together according to their home town. In general, each labour market has workers from between one and three different localities.   “People who previously experienced the work tell and instruct others. In these markets, many people are fellow-countrymen, even fathers and sons, brothers, relatives. There are people from other provinces. For example, Buoi market has workers from Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, even Dong Anh district as well. In Giang Vo market, there are workers from Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Thanh Hoa. There are many of them.” (Focus Group Discussions (hereafter FGDs) with male and female workers in Buoi and Giang Vo markets) The age of the labourers in these labour markets varies widely , with the youngest at 16-17 years old and the eldest around 55 years old. “In our village, 80% to 90% of the families have members going far away for jobs; they go everywhere. From the young to the middle-aged. Just the old and the children stay. If they were hired, they would leave as well. The majority of them work as mason’s assistants; the others become workers in factories or come here, stand and wait for a  job.” (FGD of Nghe An male laborers in Buoi market)  According to our observations and interviews, it is estimated that over 70% of labourers in the markets studied belong to the middle-aged group who are married and are the main bread-winners of their families. They have been working as day labourers in labour markets for quite a long time (from 2 to more than 10 years). And the reasons for their choice are normally lack of paddy fields, a long period of joblessness (after harvest time), no other income generation activities and that they are not qualified enough to become workers in the industrial zones any more.People from the neighbouring provinces to Ha Noi such as Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Ha Tay, Vinh Phucand Hung Yen commonly go to the city to work for 15 to 25 days per month on average. In the busy months of ploughing, transplanting and harvesting, their working days in the city reduce to 10–15 days per month depending on the workload of their families. People from distant provinces such as Thanh Hoa and Nghe An frequently cut down their journeys home to save money. They 2 Social impacts of the economic crisis on day labourers in mobile labour markets in Ha Noi , Oxfam Discussion Paper, July 2010    travel home once every 2–3 months, primarily in ploughing, transplanting and harvesting seasons to help their family do farm work. However, generally speaking, “people start coming to Ha Noi after the full moon day of Lunar January to seek for jobs, but normally they stay at home until the rice transplantation period is over. Then they work in Ha Noi from February to April. After that, they return and stay at home until the end of the full moon day of Lunar July, or some people come home again from August to October to do harvesting and transplanting. They leave for Ha Noi in November and wait until the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth day of Lunar January to return to their home town.” (FGDs of male and female workers in Buoi and Giang Vo markets) These middle-aged people rarely go to the South like younger workers because the cost of travelling is relatively high and they still have to come home and help their families with farm work or sudden family events. “The cost of traveling between the South and their home towns is quite high so they only come home once every 7-8 months. We work near home; it only takes us several hours to travel home when a sudden family emergency occurs. But if we were in the South and heard the news, it would take some days to travel home by bus. Our staying far away could make our wives and children feel sad. In general, this job is quite flexible. We can return home whenever we want. In busy periods of farm work, we can stay at home and help our families. When we have free time, we can go to the city, look for a job and earn some money.” (FGDs of male and female workers in Buoi and Giang Vo markets) On the other hand, according to 20-30% of the young and single people in labour markets, this work is a temporary step to earn enough money for vocational training or to pay the cost of travelling to the South to find a more stable and higher-income job such as mason’s assistant or coffee harvester. Almost all members of this group, while looking for a chance to travel to the South, come here and wait for a job before or after the annual Tet festival and on the way save money from reduced travel as “gas prices in the last months before Tet are twice or one and a half times as much as usual.” Some of them by this opportunity “leave for Ha Noi right after the full moon day of January and stay until the middle or end of Lunar February. If they get the full amount of money to afford the travelling cost, they will stay at home until mid-March and then go to the South till Lunar December.” (FGDs of male and female workers in Buoi and Giang Vo markets) The jobs with highest demand for labour are normally those related to construction such as mason’s assistants, digging house foundations and staking for house making; next in demand is carrying/portering for companies and shops, and after that are other  jobs for families such as transportation, furniture carrying, house and garden cleaning, etc.  As an overall estimate, female labourers account for about 30–40% of the total. However, the proportion varies between markets. For instance, in Pham Ngoc Thach market, 100% of the labourers are men; but up to 70% of the people standing in My Dinh overpass are women. The majority of women doing this kind of work come from poor families, or they go to the city with their husbands to take care of their family members.  Another cause is that the working venue is near enough to their home villages so that they can work in daytime and return home in the evening. According to traditional perceptions, the work is divided by gender. Male labourers often do “heavy” work such as carrying/portering, masonry, digging, levelling ground and digging house foundations, while the women normally do “light” work such as cleaning and helping with housework. Being interviewed, some women said that: “It’s easier for male labourers to get a job in comparison with women. Allowances for both of us for the same type of work are the same but the selection is different. With heavy work, the strong and healthy male labourers are often picked. Most of the employers don’t choose the women for this kind of work unless there are no male labourers available at that time.” (Hoang Thi L., 39, Nghe  An, a worker in Buoi market) Social impacts of the economic crisis on day labourers in mobile labour markets 3   in Ha Noi , Oxfam Discussion Paper, July 2010    2. Changes in the supply of and demand for   labour over the last 12 months   2.1 Reduced labour demand In the context of the economic crisis, the demand of employment in various fields is greatly reduced. Job opportunities for day labourers in Ha Noi are not exempt from that trend. Normally, tens to hundreds of people stand in labour markets waiting for a job but “on average, only 5–6 employers come to the labour market a day. And each of them asks for just 1–2 people. Therefore, there are only 10–15 days a month that we have work. Lucky people might get paid work for 20 days. This is a kind of luck. Jobs choose people, not the people choose jobs.” (FGDs of male and female workers in Buoi and Giang Vo labour markets) Labour demand in 2008 dropped compared to 2007 and previous years. In early 2009, this situation is continuing and even intensifying. Interviewees said that on average, of 10 days standing in the market, there were 7 days that they could get a job in 2007, but only 3–5 days in 2008. As estimated by the labourers, the workload of February 2009 is 30% less than the same period of 2008. “Last year, we had more jobs. After last Tet, we could get a job at once. But it’s different this year. Assuming that previously (February 2008) we had 10 jobs, now we only have 7. The quantity of employers suddenly falls.” (FGDs of male workers in Buoi and Giang Vo labor markets) Construction-related jobs have been reduced most     Annually, September to December of the lunar year is the period that labourers gather most to seek work. This is the time that they can find a lot of jobs and have their highest income in a year. Of this period, September and October are the months for construction, November is normally the month for completion of construction and many cleaning jobs (for Tet) arise in December. However, since September 2008, job opportunities have disappeared, especially in construction work. It was estimated by the labourers interviewed at various labour markets that construction-related work has decreased by about 70% against the same time a year ago. “There is almost no new construction by private companies; only several big construction projects by some companies and agencies are still ongoing.” (Nguyen Thi T., 34, Phuc Tho district, Ha Noi, worker in My Dinh overpass market). The next biggest fall has been in jobs like digging, carrying/portering, transportation and house moving. Last is the “light” work such as cleaning and tidying, which has only marginally declined. “We come here mostly to do the construction work but it is much reduced this year. Some  jobs can be found in Lunar December because many people want to clean, tidy or move house. Very few jobs were available during the previous months. We had jobs for around 10 days only.” (FGD of male labourers in Buoi labour market) 4 Social impacts of the economic crisis on day labourers in mobile labour markets in Ha Noi , Oxfam Discussion Paper, July 2010
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