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Housekeepers of Saigon fight to survive in pandemic-ravaged market

Saturday, August 01, 2020, 09:34 GMT+7
Housekeepers of Saigon fight to survive in pandemic-ravaged market
A group of unemployed housekeepers sit outside a housekeeping agency on To Hieu Street in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed Vietnam’s housekeeping market. Housekeepers, who used to have the upper hand in bargaining with clients, now have to scrape by to pick up jobs.

S.M is a housekeeping agency located on Quang Trung Street of Go Vap, a district of Ho Chi Minh City. On a July afternoon, their headquarters sees a wave of housekeepers searching for the slightest chance of work.

Thao, the director of S.M, is handling a barrage of calls from a basket of 20 different phones. Outside of her office, a massive amount of job seekers occupy the few chairs on either of the two floors, while others take any available floor space while they wait.

“[During this] pandemic, many clients have dropped out of the housekeeping service. Our agency headquarters have been jam-packed with people since social distancing,” Thao said.

“[Housekeepers] who are professional and hard-working are more likely to make it, but others who are demanding and quarrelsome with clients will probably find themselves coming back here. 26 housekeepers came to us just this morning, yet only four succeeded [in finding an employer],” she added.

Taking up a row of chairs at the corner of the room is a group of women. The group turns their heads in unison, casting the same investigative gaze at anyone who enters the door.

This tense atmosphere completely dissolves whenever a potential client is introduced. A lineup of aspiring candidates forms in no time, striking up conversations based on the job description.

An hourly housekeeper cleans the bathroom of her employer in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre
An hourly housekeeper cleans the bathroom of her employer in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre

The youngest candidate of the bunch, 38-year-old Hong Anh, had just been made redundant at a facility in neighboring Dong Nai Province after COVID-19 slowed production.

When asked about her family responsibilities, Hong Anh detailed, “I have been a spinster for ten years already, so don’t worry!”

Anh has been on the waitlist of S.M since April and has since gone on several jobs, yet was laid off from all of them because of COVID-19 social distancing.

S.M also works with experienced housekeepers with over 20 years on the job, one of whom is Be Ba, a woman from the Mekong Delta’s An Giang Province.

She has been let go by her clients as a kindergarten took over her job of childcare. Ba has been out of work for almost a month since.

Thao commended Ba as a shining contender for the job: “No husband, no child, no strings attached. She is reticent and affectionate to children.”

No choice to choose from

The situation is just as intense, though slightly less competitive at another housekeeping service agency on To Hieu Street of Tan Phu District.

Entering through the rear of the agency’s headquarters, job-hunting housekeepers come to wait and rest on one of a dozen mats on the floor since a new job could come at any time.

T.D, the agency’s name, is operated in the same manner as the aforementioned S.M: job seekers assigned to the facility receive free accommodation during their wait in-between jobs. They must be ready to take a job whenever it arrives.

A majority of the job-hunting residents came to T.D through social media or word of mouth. These agencies are referred to as “osin market 24/24” — with “osin” being a Vietnamese slang for a housekeeper first coined in the 1990s during the peak popularity of the Japanese TV series 'Oshin.'

In terms of paperwork requirements, they only ask applicants to submit photocopied versions of their ID and household registration book.

Even if no identification paper is provided, the agents can still help them get temporary jobs such as patient care at hospitals — as long as applicants are always ready to work.

Trang, a 38-year-old Ho Chi Minh City native with no identification, explained her job, “If you have no ID, you can work like me: Getting paid VND350,000 [US$15.2] per day to take care of a patient at a hospital. The job lasts 10-15 days, depending on how fast your client recovers. The main duties are feeding and cleaning patients, [they are arduous] but well-paid.”

Mai, an hourly housekeeper in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City, struggles to find work during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre
Mai, an hourly housekeeper in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City, struggles to find work during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre

Though, there is no guarantee that residency at these systems will secure you a job.

A housekeeper around 60 years of age, commonly referred to as “Ngoai” — literally translated to “grandmother” — had been waiting at T.D for nearly a month.

Experiencing an overtly hostile working condition, she quit her last job after working for only half a month.

“I bought eight tickets on the number 279 [in a pick-three lotto] but lost with all of them. Should I have won, I would have gone back to my hometown and spent my old age in comfort,“ she jokingly said.

Another female housekeeper, who had just moved from the north-central province of Quang Binh, poured her heart about the struggle to make a living.

“Prior to this, I was working as a caretaker for a 90-year-old couple in Hanoi. It was tough, yet I only got paid VND5 million [$217] a month. Hence, I just called it quits and came here. By all means, Saigon pays better — I make about VND7 million ($304) per month,” she said, referring to the former name of Ho Chi Minh City.

Midway through the conversation, she turns her head to the door, her eyes looking for something a thousand yards away. The woman, along with all of the other housekeepers in Ho Chi Minh City, are carrying on with nothing being ensured.Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the latest news about Vietnam!

Tuoi Tre News


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