Women reveal the dark side of working abroad

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In 2006, her husband went abroad to work for a company in Malaysia, but ran into trouble and returned home empty-handed. He also ran up a debt of 70 million VND ($3,000).

A year later, Hoa had to borrow money and find a middleman to help her find a job overseas.

With just a tourist visa, she worked undocumented in a private garment factory for a salary of 4,000 baht ($122) a month.

Even though she had to work from 6 a.m. to midnight, it was a dream salary for her because workers in Vietnam at that time were paid an average of 600,000 VND.

Hoa, from the central province of Ha Tinh, is one of many undocumented Vietnamese women who shared their experiences of working abroad without documents at the launch of a book titled ‘Hanh Trinh Di Cu Lao Dong Nuoc Ngoai Cua Phu Nu Viet Nam: Nhung Cau Chuyen Bay Gio Moi Ke’ (Vietnamese Women’s Labor Export Journey: The Untold Stories) on February 28. The book was published by the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS).

Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute of Social Development Studies, speaks at the launch of the book titled ‘Vietnamese Women’s Labor Export Journey: The Untold Stories’ on February 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Khuat Thu Hong, director of ISDS, said a large number of Vietnamese women seek undocumented work abroad, but there are no exact statistics.

In 2018, about 540,000 Vietnamese worked overseas, more than 30 percent of them women, according to statistics from the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs.

A 2018 study by ISDS in five provinces and cities found that 35% of women went abroad as guest workers because they had to pay off debts, 45% wanted to earn more money to improve their quality of life and 36% wanted to have money. to build a house.

“As most women don’t know the local language, many are exploited and face gender-based violence,” Hong said.

Hoa didn’t know the local language when she first went to Thailand, so she was happy to see that many workers in her factory were Vietnamese.

But his hopes were dashed from day one.

The boss told her to go down to the first floor and ride a fan to the third, but since she didn’t understand Thai, she went downstairs and brought a rice cooker instead.

The boss shook his head while the Vietnamese colleagues only looked at Hoa and laughed; no one told her exactly what she should get. She burst into tears after having to go up and down three times.

“Many times when the boss asked me to do something, he deliberately mistranslated it for me,” she said.

She worked for three months without receiving her salary and only received enough money for basic needs. In addition, her boss sexually assaulted her.

Knowing she was deceived, she escaped leaving all her belongings behind. The only thing she took with her was her phone.

Fortunately, a friend let her stay at home for a day. The next day, Hoa called the intermediary and asked him to find him a new job. He found her a job in a restaurant but asked her for half the first month’s salary as a salary.

Hoa is not unique. Many other Vietnamese women have also experienced sexual harassment while working overseas.

Nguyen Thi Tinh, 38, went to Thailand with her husband to work but they lived in two different provinces. Tinh was lucky to find a good employer and was paid on time and in full.

Once she asked her landlord to book a car for her to visit her husband, but the driver ended up trying to rape her.

She said: “He told me that he wanted a Vietnamese wife. I thought he only said that as a joke and didn’t pay much attention to it. When he reached the fork of the road, he did not take the road leading to my husband’s house, and instead turned back into the forest”.

She ordered the driver to turn around, but he locked the doors. She knocked on the doors and tried to force them open to get out, but couldn’t. She then picked up her phone and called her employer. When he called the driver, the man let her go and apologized for “taking a wrong turn”.

Nguyen Thi Tinh shares his story of working in Thailand via Zoom at the book launch event on February 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Nguyen Thi Tinh talks about his time in Thailand via Zoom at the book launch event on February 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

But Tinh’s fate was nothing compared to what Nguyen Thi Minh and her husband had to go through. In 2010, the couple moved to Thailand to work so they could pay off a debt.

Minh’s job was to plant flowers and take them to the market to sell to the owner. When he was away, his boss molested his wife twice, but she didn’t have the courage to tell her husband.

The third time, he came back from the market and caught his boss in the act. Although angry, he let him go with a verbal warning since he needed the job.

But one day, when she and her husband were working in the garden, police officers came to arrest them and took them to the police station.

They were imprisoned for three months.

Later, she learned that the landlord had notified the police that the couple were undocumented workers.

The 2018 ISDS study found that 18% of guest workers said their biggest fear was getting arrested.

Jail is an indelible memory for Tran Thi Thu, who also traveled to Thailand to earn a living and was arrested because her passport had expired.

In the prison, a person who claimed to be the boss of the place searched her belongings, took her phone and forced her to pay money.

Thu said he met many Vietnamese in prison, including a pregnant woman, and people from Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“People were crying inconsolably after being arrested. Many were unable to sleep or eat. Every day in prison, inmates fought with each other.”

After a month in prison, Vietnamese migrant workers could buy plane tickets to return home. But the pregnant woman could not leave because she was more than eight months pregnant and was forced to give birth in prison.

Thu and another inmate volunteered to stay and take care of her until she gave birth. When she gave birth, the police pooled money to buy items for the newborn.

“Seeing the baby born in prison made my heart ache. Due to the situation of the family, the child had to suffer such a disadvantage.”

Despite the humiliation and hardship, Hoa and Tinh stayed in Thailand for over seven years to earn a living.

Now they have returned home. Hoa runs a small business while Tinh, who is fluent in Thai, sells Thai products online to Japanese and Korean customers.

However, both of their husbands are still working abroad.

Vietnamese workers attend a labor export meeting.  Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs

Vietnamese workers attend a labor export meeting. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs

Hong said her agency hopes stories like these will help the community and policy makers better understand the difficulties, challenges and risks faced by guest workers.

“We hope that policymakers will make efforts to ensure that women’s travel abroad for work becomes safer.”

Nguyen Song Bao Anh, her ISDS colleague, said that to ensure their safety, women who want to go to work abroad should connect to guest worker networks to learn from their experience and learn about migration programs from safe, legal and appropriate foreign workers.

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