The Vietnamese government may have advocated "labour export" as the means to alleviate unemployment and boost domestic labour skills, but overseas workers returning home continue to stare down the barrel of employment uncertainties.
Cuong Gian Commune, in Nghi Xuan District of the central province of Ha Tinh, was once considered an exemplary "model" of labour export. It transformed itself from a poor fishing village to a prosperous commune, thanks to the remittances from abroad.
Many other rural areas have benefitted similarly from the remittances sent back home by those toiling in foreign lands.
Yet, behind that seemingly resounding success lie latent risks in terms of the labour structure, an official of the communal government told Dan Viet newspaper (Vietnamese People).
Hundreds of young workers in the commune who have returned home after completing their contract in developed countries such as Japan and South Korea are currently unemployed. They are unwilling to "resort" to traditional occupations such as in agriculture and aquaculture, and bide their time hoping to secure another overseas contract.
Tran Van Tinh worked for three years in South Korea on a monthly pay of around US$1,000. After returning to his hometown, he washed his hands off the fishing career, used the money he had saved up to build a house. He contacted a number of recruitment agencies for fresh opportunities abroad, but as luck would have it, he was swindled out of his hard-earned money.
Cash-strapped, the family had to borrow money to open a small street-side drinking place to stay afloat.
Unfortunately, Tinh’s is not an isolated case. Thousands of youths returning from overseas works have undergone similar ordeals.
A government official from the Hai Trach Commune, Bo Trach District, in Quang Binh Province, said many young people are looking for ways to work in Japan or South Korea right after graduating high school, only to enter a vicious circle.
“After returning home, they build houses, and spend lavishly. When the saved up money runs out, they borrow from banks and seek more jobs overseas,” he said.
No employment plan for returned workers
“We still do not have policies in place to mobilise and make the best use of the financial and human resources that overseas workers bring home,” Nguyen Thanh Hoa, former Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MoLISA), admitted.
“Employment issues for the overseas workers have not been addressed; it is not in synchronisation with the government’s policy of encouraging labour export. We have not thought through this policy,” Hoa added.
“Looking back at the labour exchange between Japan and Vietnam, I am disappointed to see that labourers come back home only to find themselves jobless or work in a profession not suited to the skills they have acquired in Japan,” said Yanagi Seiichi, general director of the Japan-based Sanup Company, which has employed many Vietnamese workers. He was speaking at a meeting of workers returning from Japan, an event organised regularly by the Hiteco Job Development Centre in South Vietnam.
The current situation is a regrettable waste of labour resources and valuable skills obtained from developed countries which are highly in demand among the FDI enterprises, Nguyen Lan Huong, former Director of the National Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs, said.
“For developing countries such as Vietnam, the key priority in promoting labour export should be to push for a highly-skilled labour force that will contribute to the development of the country when they come back,” Masumi Higuma, legal representative of IM Japan (International Manpower Development Organisation) in Vietnam said.
“The unemployment that awaits workers back home is part of the reason why they attempt their best to extend their stay, often illegally, in the host countries,” Magumi added.
Hoa said that back when he was still working as Deputy Minister of MoLISA, he had given directives to the Department of Overseas Labour (DOLab) to build a database maintaining information on overseas labourers, which would aid the government in the conception of an employment strategy for those returning home. With access to this database, foreign enterprises investing in Vietnam would be able to contact easily and directly the qualified workers.
“However, to my knowledge, this database has not been implemented properly,” he added.
Pham Viet Huong, Deputy Director of DOLab, said the database was unusable in its current state and would take a long time to be updated and fully functional.
Nguyen Thi Hai Van, Director General of the Department of Employment, under MoLISA, said currently, enterprises needing skilled workers would contact the department and the department will send these enterprises a list of qualified ones.
Enterprises’ proactive measures
While authorities have not come up with viable solutions to utilise skills of workers returning home, many foreign enterprises have made efforts to make use of these untapped resources.
IM Japan, who has an official cooperation with the Centre of Overseas Labour (COLab), contacts Japanese firms to find out if they need labour. This has helped hundreds of Vietnamese workers returning home avoid unemployment, as they have already acquired the requisite know-how in Japan.
Sanup invested in Vietnam by opening a branch to employ those very labourers they had helped train and equip with the necessary skills.
Kanto Corporation, which has hired thousands of Vietnamese workers in Japan, has established an information database on these trainees, which can be referred to by the Japanese firms investing or intending to invest in Vietnam.
In contrast, most of those workers returning from South Korea are left stranded even with the 2,000 South Korean firms currently operating in Vietnam.
Replicating best practices
Many domestic recruitment agencies have applied the best practices used by the Japanese to make use of the highly-skilled workers returning from abroad.
Esuhai Co. Ltd., one such agency, has established a capacity building school to supply skilled workers for overseas work. Vietnamese workers employed in Japan can register for suitable jobs on the agency’s website before returning home. More than 200 workers have been referred to the Japanese firms operating in HCM City and other provinces in the south such as Binh Duong and Dong Nai.
Le Long Son, director at Esuhai, praised the discipline and the skills of Vietnamese workers returning from Japan.
“Japanese firms prefer recruiting them, as they do not need training like the domestic workers,” he said.
Tanoi Junichi, Director General of the Japan-based Seebest, a manufacturer of precision parts located in Viet Nam – Singapore Industrial Park in Binh Duong Province, agreed with Son’s statement, saying his company was employing six Vietnamese workers who returned from Japan.
“They are workers who have achieved skills on par with Japanese workers. This irreplaceable human resources will play an important role in our expansion and investment into Vietnam market,” Junichi said.
Another issue that Son raised is that unemployment is not due to lack of jobs, but lower pay compared to what they earn abroad, he claimed. For the same job, in Viet Nam, the monthly salary is 6 million dong to 10 million dong ($266 to $443), while in Japan, it can be as high as 20 million dong to 30 million dong ($885 to $1328). The authorities must take note of this disparity in pay.
COLab frequently organises job fairs to connect overseas workers with Japanese and South Korean firms. The centre has also cooperated with the provincial Department of Labour to organise job fairs for labourers from many other markets.