What Makes a Supervisor: Trang’s Story

Tu Thi Huyen Trang – Supervisor at Thuan Phuong Factory

Photo: Arno Gasteiger, © ILO/IFC

Photo: Arno Gasteiger, © ILO/IFC

Bent forward, her elbows resting on the sewing table of one of her workers, Trang Tu holds a piece of fabric in her hand that is going to become the back pocket of a pair of jeans, sold in department and clothing stores from Los Angeles to Tokyo. She points at the thread that lines around the fabric and discusses with her colleague how it is properly sewn onto the pants.

Trang works as production supervisor at the Thuan Phuong textile factory located in District 6 of bustling Ho Chi Minh City, overseeing more than one hundred workers in the sewing department. Trang grew up in Ben Tre province in the heart of the Mekong Delta, one of Vietnam’s major rice producing regions. In 2000, when Trang was twenty years old, her father passed away after being sick for many years. In order to find a job and be able to send a substantial share of her income back to her financially struggling family, Trang moved to Ho Chi Minh City, located less than 100 km but due to bad roads a more than 2-hour drive away from Ben Tre. A family friend introduced Trang to the Thuan Phong factory, where she’s been working for the past 13 years. “A relative of mine in Ben Tre had taught me how to sew, so when I started working here I only received a short introductory training,” says Trang. “The first couple of weeks were pretty bad, I cried almost every day because I missed my family so much. It took me more than half a year to settle down and get used to life in Ho Chi Minh City.” After two years at the factory, Trang got promoted to group leader but her advancement would not stop there. In 2006 Trang was made a production supervisor, responsible for assisting the everyday work of over 100 garment workers and a position predominantly held by foreigners. With a modest smile on her face Trang explains, “I was very happy when I got promoted but also a little worried whether I could live up to the expectations”. As a supervisor Trang meets with management staff on a weekly basis to discuss workers’ concerns and how to make production more efficient. “The management is very open and since I used to work as a sewer in this factory myself, I understand how the workers feel pretty well. I try to approach them as a friend, not a strict supervisor,” Trang says. Among many different types of training, Better Work offers supervisory skills trainings, which teach supervisors to mediate between workers and management more effectively and strike a fair balance between the interests of the company and the interests of the staff.

At the Thuan Phuong factory, which has implemented a piece-rate salary, one of the workers’ and consequently Trang’s biggest concern is receiving a high remuneration at the end of each month. “Last year we received a very difficult order with many details, which required a lot of attention and time. As a result the productivity of my production line decreased significantly. My workers were very concerned that they would not get paid much at the end of the month,” says Trang with a serious look on her face. “So I went to see the management team, who asked me to talk to the workers and advise them to do as well as possible. At the end of the month the management decided to double the workers’ salary. I was very happy and proud and felt that the workers trusted me even more after that,” says Trang as her face lights up. Making the workers feel comfortable, fairly paid and satisfied is Trang’s biggest goal – but not always entirely easy to accomplish. “When the sewers are unhappy with their salary or disagree with what I tell them, I get worried and it keeps me up at night,” states Trang.

Most of her spare time Trang spends with her nine-year-old son, who lives a life very different from hers when she was the same age. While she takes her son to the bookstore or the swimming pool after school in Ho Chi Minh City, at age 9 Trang had to help her family grow coconut trees in the Mekong Delta. “I had to support my family to pay for my father’s medical fees so I had to drop out of school after seventh grade.” Trang still supports her mother financially every month but does not want her husband to know. She is afraid that he might think poorly of her family. When asked whether she ever sews clothes for herself in her spare time Trangs starts giggling. “No, I don’t have time for that. I just buy my clothes in fashion stores.”

(Originally published by Better Work Vietnam.)