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Vietnam’s Migrant Workers Go Home as Downturn Deepens

Nguoi Viet, news, Posted: Mar 18, 2009

Ha Nguyen's temporary lodgings are no bigger than a prison cell. His bed consists of wooden planks balanced on a few broken bricks, and there is no electricity or running water. Yet he and perhaps millions of others, experts say, have returned to this style of living in rural Vietnam rather than stay in urban centers, such as Saigon or Hanoi, because the cities are too expensive and jobs are disappearing.

''The economic difficulties in the world have affected Vietnam'' said the gruff Nguyen, 28, as he smoked a cigarette on his day off from a wood-processing factory where he ekes out a living for his young family.

While inflation has settled down after rampant consumer price rises last year, food costs were still up 22.16 percent year-on-year in February, according to the latest figures from Vietnam's General Statistics Office.

Nguyen said he and his wife now earn a total of $170 a month, just enough to live on and slightly more than the average monthly pay for workers at state-owned enterprises.

He and a dozen others living in sparse rented shacks say that while the pay is more in Saigon, Vietnam's financial center 500 miles to the south, they have less disposable income there.

''We did a survey and there were some who went back to their home provinces, but the ratio was not that big,'' said Lam Tiep, deputy head of Saigon’s export processing zone authority, without providing figures.

Tiep said a total of 240,000 workers were currently employed in the industrial zones dotted around the city, meaning 8,000 had lost their jobs since December, mainly at Japanese and South Korean firms.

The global economic crisis was to blame, Tiep added, with Vietnam’s economy cooling to 6.2 percent growth in 2008 after almost a decade of blistering growth that saw the country rapidly develop, dragging millions out of poverty.

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