Duong Thi Be – Worker at Pungkook II Factory
9 September 2013.
Ho Chi Minh City – Be sits behind her worn out sewing machine at the Pungkook II factory in an industrial park in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. Focused and at a dizzying pace she stitches together the padding for what a couple of workers further down the production line will become a shoulder strap for a prominent outdoor equipment supplier’s duffel bag. When Be takes off the facemask that protects her from dust and hazardous fumes in the plastic she flashes a contagious smile that lights up the entire production line.
Be was barely 19 years old when she embarked on a one and half day long bus ride that would take her on bumpy and windy roads from Ha Tinh province, one of Vietnam’s most impoverished regions on the central coast, to the country’s economic and financial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. Her sister who had moved south eight years ago and had found a position with Pungkook II introduced her to the company. With no sewing experience prior to her first day of work in March 2012, Be was thrown into the deep end. Despite two to three days of training and a helping hand by her side for the first couple of days, Be found it very difficult to adapt to her new environment and work duties. “After the first couple of weeks I felt like giving up several times. But then it slowly started to get better”, says Be bashfully. Then she turns more serious and adds: “I couldn’t find a job in my home province, so my sister suggested I should move to Ho Chi Minh City. I had no idea what my new life in the south would be like, but my sister told me I had to be hard working in order to succeed.”
Be usually grabs lunch at the factory’s canteen with co-workers from her production line, most of them originally from the north as well. “The food here is alright,” says Be and adds with a smile, “it is not as good as at home though.” Like most workers in Vietnamese textile factories, Be keeps her lunch short in order to be able to take a nap on the floor underneath the sewing table during the one hour lunch break. Since joining Pungkook II in the spring of 2012, Be has experienced some improvements to the working conditions on the production floor. “My everyday work experience has improved. It used to be quite hot on the production floor but the ventilation system was upgraded and now it’s more comfortable,” explains the twenty-year old. “It is also cleaner and tidier on the production floor now than when I first started working here. I feel like I can work faster and more efficiently now.” Just as in Be’s case Better Work Vietnam helps garment factories to increase the occupational health and safety standards. Enterprise advisors instruct factories on how to improve ventilation systems, install more fans and use spin-drying machines more efficiently. In addition, Better Work teaches workers how to use protective personal equipment at the work space properly. Even though some factories provide their employees with protective equipment, many workers will not use it. Better Work supports factories to raises workers’ awareness for the importance of protecting themselves at the workplace.
Ha Tinh, Be’s home province is densely populated and defined by harsh weather conditions with severely cold winters and extremely hot summers. “Here in Ho Chi Minh City there are so many people, it’s very crowded. I think I prefer living with my parents in the countryside,” the twenty year old reflects. Be rides her bicycle to work every day – a pretty daunting experience on Ho Chi Minh City’s roads, heavily congested with motorbikes, trucks and as the country quickly develops economically an increasing number of cars. “It’s a little scary to bike here, but I’m careful and have managed to avoid an accident so far,” says Be. In her spare time Be enjoys playing games on her mobile phone and listening to music, especially by Chau Khai Pong, Vietnam’s equivalent to the Justin Bieber phenomenon. “And spending time with my boyfriend,” Be adds and blushes slightly.
(Originally published by Better Work Vietnam.)