Many workers in Ho Chi Minh City choose to work night shifts for better pay, but the unnatural working hours expose them to a precarious situation where their health and safety are considered the trade-offs.
Cong Trong moved to Ho Chi Minh City from the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho to seek a living.
Now aged 37, Trong works as a guard, living on Bui Tu Toan Street of Binh Tan District with his wife Kim, who is on the payroll of a grocery store as a food processing employee.
Trong said his dorm room barely ever sees two tenants in it at the same time, and the married couple can only see each other for about an hour a day.
Having a meal with each other is a privilege, as Trong works the night shift from 5:00 pm to 5:00 am the next day, while Kim works from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.
“To buy two portions of congee on my way home from work is one of the few ways that I can find time to eat with my wife. Most of the time, she arrives home only to find that I have already left,” Trong said.
Tan Duong, a 26-year-old from the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, is taking on dual responsibility as a guard and a housekeeper at a hotel on Bau Cat Street, Tan Binh District.
His working hours start at 6:00 pm and end at 6:00 am the next day.
“For a 12-hour workday, I make VND6 million [US$259] [a month],” Duong revealed.
According to Duong, he is always up to his eyes during these 12-hour shifts.
“I will do valet parking for the guests when they arrive, look after the properties, and also do housekeeping work so there is barely any free time,” Duong said.
Thanh Vinh, a 24-year-old hailing from the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, has been working for a packaging manufacturer on Bau Cat Street over the past year.
He is fixated on the night shifts, working from 10:30 pm to 6:30 am the next day.
“My [monthly] salary used to be VND6.2 million [$267], but it has shrunk to VND5.5 million [$237] in the last two months. Lower salary, but the workload stays the same,” Vinh said.
“My health is deteriorating from the continuous sleepless nights."
University students are also seen taking night shifts at convenience store chains in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I work eight hours each night, making VND5 million [$215] a month, including a 20 percent night shift allowance,” said Trong Tuan, a student working for a convenience store on Thai Thi Nhan Street, Tan Binh District.
“Night shifts are extremely exhausting. I have to serve customers and check out their purchase when they enter the store.
"When there is no customer, there are still shelf restocking, expiry date probing, and inventory managing to do."
Convenience store workers are well aware of the risks posed by working night shifts more than anyone else: they are talking about a recent incident in District 9, Ho Chi Minh City, where a worker was held at knifepoint as a thug robbed the place.
“Night shift workers like me are highly vigilant of those risks, as well as the risks of encountering sexual predators and perverts,” My Dung, a student of Van Hien University who works at a convenience store on Ho Hoc Lam Street, Binh Tan District, expounded the current state of night shift employees.
Dai Hung, a 28-year-old from the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum, has just landed a job at a garment factory on Le Van Chi Street, Thu Duc District after a whole year facing unemployment.
Hung used to work as a machine operator for a cardboard packaging manufacturer in Binh Chieu Industrial Zone — until he was hit by a truck and left with a broken leg while he was on his way to work a night shift.
“Night shifts provide you with allowances, overtime bonuses, and an income that is one-third higher [than day shifts], but they also involve many risks. Commuting to night shifts predispose you to high risks of a traffic accident since there are more reckless drivers [at night]. Night shifts are also more likely to induce fatigue, constant lethargy, and drowsiness,” Hung explained.
A 27-year-old from Dong Nai Province, Minh Thai is working as a rideshare motorbike driver. He mostly functions at night to seek a higher service rate compared to that during the daytime.
“Night rides expose me to more danger, primarily robbery. The fact that a lot of my colleagues have been in that situation [where they are robbed] unnerves me a little. Not to mention the drowsiness that can emerge out of nowhere. Yet I need to pull through for my wife and kids at home,” Thai professed.