From the Village to the PICC: Cong’s Story

9 Sep 2013

Nguyen Van Cong – Worker at Quang Xuan Factory

9 September 2013.

Photo: Arno Gasteiger, © ILO/IFC
Photo: Arno Gasteiger, © ILO/IFC

Ho Chi Minh City – In 2004 at age 22, Cong Nguyen’s life took a decisive turn. Born and raised in Ha Tinh province on the north central coast of Vietnam, one of Vietnam’s most impoverished provinces, Cong decided to pack his few belongings and set off to a new life in the country’s economic center Ho Chi Minh City. After a long and hopeless search for a stable and decently paid job in his home province, where the average income amounts to less than one per cent of the United States’, a friend introduced him to the Quang Xuan factory in Cu Chi, just outside Ho Chi Minh City. “The first days were quite strange to me,” recalls Cong, “I had never been in the south before and both the people and the food were very different here from the north. But after a time I got used to living here”. Without any prior experience in the textile industry, Cong was offered a job in Quang Xuan’s packaging department. “I got a brief training when I first started here but I mostly learned through everyday work,” explains Cong.

The Quang Xuan factory joined the Better Work Vietnam program in 2009 and set up the Performance Improvement Consultative Committee (PICC) shortly after. Cong is the latest member of this committee that consists of representatives from both factory workers and management, and which works collaboratively on improving the working environment and production efficiency. “I had heard about the PICC’s role and responsibilities before and was very proud when I found out that I had won the elections,” says Cong and blushes slightly. “There were two rounds of elections. First, I was chosen to represent my production line and in the second round I ran successfully against six other nominees. Now I represent roughly 100 workers at the PICC”. In April 2013 Cong joined his first PICC meeting, which Cong describes as a great forum to share ideas, talk about occupational health and safety and the relationship between workers and management. “What I like most about the PICC, however, is that it provides a platform to discuss ideas and concerns with workers from other departments.” After his first meeting, Cong tried to spread the information about the meeting whenever possible, either in small groups orne-on-one situations. He believes that word of mouth is the most effective way to disseminate news and raise workers’ awareness for crucial work related issues.

Just like Cong, every year thousands of other northern Vietnamese leave their provinces for better economic opportunities in southern Vietnam’s thriving garment industry, more than thousand kilometres away from home. To most of them this big step entails much more than just a job – it is the start to an entirely new life. Cong met his wife, who also works at the factory, in 2007 and together they have a 4-year-old son. “We live very close to the factory, so we usually eat at home during our one hour lunch break. The factory provides us with a food allowance, since it is not equipped with a canteen,” says Cong. With a smile on his face he adds, “We usually don’t have to work overtime hours, so when we finish work at around 4 o’clock my wife and I pick up our son from kindergarten together.”

When asked about the future, Cong explains that he has no intentions to switch jobs or relocate in the near future. “I’m satisfied with my job here. The management is very supportive of us workers and tries to provide us with good working conditions. In addition, the factory offers various allowances, such as a bonus before Tet, the Vietnamese New Year’s holiday.” After a short moment of hesitation, Cong adds, “this is a great opportunity to provide my son with a solid education but when I retire I might want to move back to the north. I think I would feel more comfortable spending my older days in my hometown”.

(Originally published by Better Work Vietnam.)

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