THANH HOA (VNS) — Three years ago, Tong Thi Oanh, now 36, a resident of the northern province of Thanh Hoa decided to leave her husband and two children to go to work in Malaysia, hoping to create a better life for them.
In late 2013, Oanh returned home in Ha Bac Commune in Ha Trung District with VND140 million (over US$6,650), a sum enough to help refurbish her home.
But Oanh said she had to work very hard for her savings. She worked around 12-13 hours a day and endured difficult conditions in the country.
During her three years living in Malaysia, Oanh did not go shopping for clothes nor engage in any social or cultural activities. Her only activity was the daily commute to work on the company’s bus and shopping for groceries.
“I had a very difficult time,” Oanh admitted. She missed her family and was under a lot of pressure at work.
Although Oanh did not have to pay any fees before arriving in Malaysia, her humble income of 900-1000 Malaysian Ringgit ($275-305) was reduced by MYR300 (nearly $92) each month in the first year to pay brokerage fees to the company that sent her.
Oanh says she didn’t even have enough money to buy food in these first few months.
Despite having a difficult time, Oanh is considered one of the luckier overseas workers. She was not required to pay service fees (except for the $40 she paid for language lessons and medical examinations) before her trip and managed to bring back some savings from Malaysia.
Tong Thi Thanh, a 20-year-old girl from the same locality as Oanh, decided to return home after only eight months working in Taiwan from late 2012. This was despite earning a much higher income equivalent to VND13-21 million per month (nearly $620-1000).
Thanh said work pressure and tight living conditions had caused her to decide to leave.
She was forced to repay a huge debt to her recruitment agency while in Taiwan. She was charged US$6,000 to be sent to Taiwan, despite Governments regulations at the time that prohibited companies from charging workers more than $4,500.
Thanh shared that she was beaten by her supervisor at work several times. The beating, while not very serious, prompted her to ask to change companies.
When Thanh’s request was refused, she decided to go home, even though this meant returning empty-handed.
Oanh and Thanh joined a group of guest workers who attended a recent event to raise awareness in Ha Bac Commune co-organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO), MTV EXIT and the Ho Chi Minh Youth Union.
The women shared their stories with guests, talking about the advantages and difficulties of working overseas in the hopes of helping other potential migrant workers and provide a taste of what they can expect in a foreign country.
The events were organised in response to a spate of workers in rural areas going to work overseas with little knowledge of what they could expect, according to an ILO survey in 2011. Similar events have also taken place in the provinces of Phu Tho, Bac Ninh, and Quang Ngai.
According to the survey, which polled 300 potential overseas workers in Yen Dinh (Thanh Hoa province) and Son Ha district (Quang Ngai province), 50 per cent of the respondents were not aware of the channels supporting workers to go to work overseas.
More worryingly, none of them were aware of the full costs of going to work overseas as well as the Government’s regulations about limits on service and brokerage fees.
In addition, 95 per cent of respondents were unaware of their own right to keep their own passport while working overseas.
The contribution of women and men migrants to the growth and development in both their host and home countries was enormous but sadly many of them had been subjected to exploitation, harassment and even human trafficking, said ILO Viet Nam Director Gyorgy Sziraczki.
The commonest problem of all, the overcharging of fees, was serious enough to make Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs recently suspend the activity of sending workers overseas of 14 Vietnamese and 11 Taiwanese employment companies, among several other ways to sanction violations during recent years.
Max Tunon, regional project coordinator for the ILOs Tripartite Action to Protect Migrants from Labour Exploitation project, said workers could be easily deceived by both brokers and recruitment agents because of the deficit of accurate and reliable information available to potential migrant workers.
In response to this common situation, Tunon urged the authorities to monitor recruitment practices, ensure accessible and effective complaints mechanisms and issue sanctions for violations to deter illegal practices.
In a similar event organised in Thanh Hoa Province’s Yen Dinh District, a local man named Hong Van Tinh, who was invited to speak about his work experience overseas, said potential overseas workers needed to consider the required costs to go to work overseas to decide whether it is worth it to leave their homes for a foreign country.
Tinh said if the costs were too high, it might take a worker a long time to pay back all the debts for fees and collect some savings for themselves.
“You need to be sure you have found a reliable service company, or else you will just end up returning home empty-handed.”
Tinh was one of the lucky migrant workers who managed to collect high savings and have enough money to build his family a new house upon his return from a foreign country. All was achieved, however, at the cost of years of hard work.
After attending the event, Le Dac Nguyen, a 22-year-old resident of Yen Hung Commune in Yen Dinh District, who would like to go to work overseas, said he would be carefully considering before making any decision, now as he knew both the advantages and disadvantages of working overseas.
“I need to find a reliable recruitment company first,” Nguyen said.