Housing for workers in the [Vietnamese] industrial zones

This article gives a picture of the appalling housing conditions of workers employed in the IZs and EPZs, the special industrial zones established to attract foreign investment.

Housing is a burning issue for the whole of [Vietnamese] society as national industrialisation and modernisation goes ahead. Because housing demands are not met this gives rise to the more common existence of sordid slums. And yet housing is in great demand in the industrial and export processing zones of Tan Tao, Vinh Loc (Binh Chanh), Linh Trung (Thu Duc), around Ho Chi Minh City and in other provinces in the South East Delta region. Housing for those who produce the wealth of society must be taken deadly seriously.

Ho Chi Minh City: in the plans for developing IZs and EPZs, housing was 'forgotten'

With nine IZs and two EPZs, Ho Chi Minh City has a vital role to play in the course of 'doi moi' [reform] and development. The total area of these zones reaches 2,050 hectares. There were about 65,000 workers in these areas, and this number was expected to rise to 70,000 or even 90,000 by the end of the year 2000. 70 per cent are migrant workers from other provinces. Thus, there is a dire need of housing for workers at IZs and EPZs who have to live very far from their families. However, when these zones were built, they "forgot" about building houses for the workers.

At present, in the Tan Tao IZ of Binh Chanh there are about 15,000 migrant workers, most of them working for the same IZ. That explains why local people are building a series of sordid slums to rent out to these workers. And around these slums social problems emerge. Sadly we have to say that opposite Linh Trung (a modern EPZ) in Thu Duc the workers' houses are damp, ramshackle and have patched up rooms. "We and our two children have to live in this slum because we have very little money," said Nguyen Thi Le. "If we do not live here, where can we go and live?"

As we enter these rooms, we are overwhelmed by a feeling of nausea due to the lack of hygiene, no outlet for waste water, and sewage overspills. They live together with disease carrying germs. There are of course no leisure facilities, no places of entertainment, no playgrounds. Most of the workers living in these rooms are young. They pay between 200,000 to 300,000 Dongs a month for their rooms. But four to five workers share one room and that leaves only enough room to line up together when sleeping. In this situation, increasing insecurity and disorder are unavoidable.

Dong Nai: the majority of workers live in sordid slums

Dong Nai has ten EPZs and nearly 90,000 workers from other provinces are employed there. Housing for workers at these EPZs in Dong Nai is also in an abysmal state. The Trade Unions of Dong Nai province conducted a survey on workers' housing needs at five enterprises in the province. The results revealed that 65,43 per cent of the workers have to rent houses at a cost between 50,000 and 200,000 Dongs per person, per month. Apart from the workers who live in the company compounds, the rest have to live in slums, which are even worse, with no cleaning facilities, and very poor living conditions.

In order to solve this problem, in Bien Hoa-Dong Nai city, there several house building projects were launched for the workers in these IZs. The Dong Nai Housing company built a block of 100 rooms to be rented for 40,000 Dongs per person per month. But shortly afterwards the company raised the rent and many workers were no longer able to afford it. Housing for workers at the Dong Nai IZs remains an unsolved problem.

The way out?

To partially overcome this situation, some companies have begun to build houses for their workers. 150 houses, built by the Savimex Company, were sold to the workers on the basis of a five-year token payment. Cholimex built thirty rooms to be rented out for 50,000 Dongs per person, per month. Some other companies have also launched housing projects for their workforce. However, with such an immense, and increasing, number of workers when will these housing projects, launched in a haphazard manner by some companies, be able to offer decent living quarters for the workers?

What is urgently needed is to plan the urban zones around the IZs and EPZs. This not only includes a strategy for attracting the workforce, but it also demands humanity in the way labourers are used by the enterprises. In the beginning, when the IZs and EPZs were being planned and built, the housing issue was forgotten. Therefore now, the state and the companies operating in these IZs and EPZs must quickly find a solution. The burning issue is not only housing, but also the conditions in these modern industrial urban zones. "The formation of IZs and EPZs was not only aimed at stimulating the economy of Ho Chi Minh City. It also had the purpose of drawing surplus and redundant labourers from the rural areas. Therefore, the state must establish a more privileged policy for the investors and also clear regulations covering the question of living quarters for the workers that a company takes on in its factory", Nguyen Nhon Trung of the IZs and EPZs management board said.

The urgent task in these IZs and EPZs is also to build public buildings: leisure and entertainment centres. Also, schools for workers' children are urgently in need, since there are no schools for them at present.

Reported by PB and DH,
(From the Vietnamese Newsopaper 'Lao dong', 16 November 2000)