After 5:00 pm, roads around industrial parks in many localities have become congested as workers return home from work. The practice of working overtime is now rare among workers.

At a boarding house near the Khac Niem Industrial Park in Bac Ninh Province, which has over 25 rooms for rent, workers usually finish their work early and return to their rented rooms. This is in contrast to the situation before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The owner of the boarding house, Hanh Phuc, stated that companies have fewer new orders, so they do not require their workers to work overtime.

According to Phuc, many workers have even quit their jobs and returned to their hometowns, resulting in many vacant rooms at her boarding house.

Two residents of the boarding house, Vi Kieu Oanh, who is 19 years old and from Nghe An Province, and Luc Thi Phuong, who is 21 years old and from Lao Cai Province, share a room. They work for a company and have an 8-hour workday without overtime.

Phuong said, “After the pandemic was controlled, my job became unstable. Without working overtime, my monthly salary is only around VND5 million [US$206]. I can’t save any money.”

Oanh added, “My salary is barely enough to cover my expenses. Earlier, I had to ask for an advance payment on my salary to meet my needs, and sometimes I didn’t have enough money to buy instant noodles. I can’t continue in this situation.”

These two workers share a monthly rental fee of about VND1.5 million ($61.8), which includes water and power costs.

They haven’t dared to visit their families yet.

Oanh said, “We hope that our company’s orders will increase so that we can work overtime and earn extra income during this difficult time.”

Pham Tuan Anh, a 28-year-old employee of a South Korean-invested company located in Bac Ninh Province, is luckier. His company has secured orders, and he works from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm every day, with overtime until 7:00 pm.

As a mobile phone housing tester, Tuan Anh earns a basic salary of over VND5 million ($206). His total income, including overtime pay and allowances, is VND8-9 million ($330-371) per month.

After paying for rent, meals, and other expenses, he can save VND3 million ($123.7) monthly.

Homeownership is an unattainable dream

Workers who have left their hometowns and moved to Ho Chi Minh City for 10 to 20 years can only earn enough money to support their children. Owning a home, even a low-cost one, is beyond their reach.

Nguyen Cam Thi, a 42-year-old factory worker in the Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, said that her company hasn’t offered any overtime work this year.

However, Thi considers herself lucky as many other workers have been laid off.

Before, she used to earn nearly VND10 million ($412.3) per month after working for 20 years. Now, her income has plummeted to only VND7-8 million ($288.6-330).

She spends nearly VND7 million ($288.6) on her two children’s school fees, and the cost of rent, water, and electricity is more than VND2 million ($82.5) per month.

She lives in a rented room of about 12 square meters and says, “Fortunately, the landlord hasn’t increased the rent. I don’t even dare to think about buying a house, which costs billions of Vietnamese dong. How can a worker earn such a large sum?” (1 billion VND = $41,261).

Huynh Thi Le Trinh, a 41-year-old resident of District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, is in the same situation. Her salary this month was more than VND6 million ($247.4). She and her husband work for the same company and have just returned to work after a one-week break.