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Bad economy a dark cloud over holiday to Vietnamese factory workers

A factory worker in Ho Chi Minh City chooses some clothes to send to her children in northern Vietnam as Lunar New Year gifts. She cannot afford traveling home herself

The sinking economy has cast its shadow over the Lunar New Year Festival, Vietnam's largest holiday, as workers' New Year bonuses have been cut and many companies have even failed to pay out regular salaries.

The festival, known as Tet in Vietnamese and which peaks on February 10 this year, has been a hot topic of discussions at several workers' housing units in District 12. But most discussions are about how they will survive Tet, not how they will celebrate it.

Vo Hong Duong, 24, a garment worker, said has not been paid his salary in months, let alone a bonus.

Duong said he dared not complain for fear of being sacked, which would be "more terrible." "There's been no salary for nearly two months now. I and my colleagues usually have to go out to work without a single dong on us."

A 27-year-old worker in Tan Binh District, who asked to be identified by his initials T.D.S., said his Tet bonus this year was a calendar.

"The company director said we might have some cash after Tet if accounting finds some extra money," he said.

Many workers said their salaries were already too low and most had pawned valuables to make it through difficult times.

They said the burden is increasing as their landlords have raised rents starting this month by VND100,000 to VND200,000 (US$4.8-9.6) a month, or more than 10 percent.

Huy, who lives and works with his wife in Thu Duc District, said they chose a small room of little more than 10 square meters so they could save money to send back home to their 4-year-old child, but now their rent and their water and power bills are going up.

His rent has been raised by nearly 20 percent this year since starting out at VND800,000 a month.

Many workers have thus decided not to go home for Tet for another year.

A worker from the central province of Ha Tinh said she earned VND3.6 million ($173) a month working nine hours a day, but she sent money regularly to her sister who is going to school, so she could not save for a trip home.

"A lot of people are not leaving, a lot are going to have Tet in the city," another worker said.

Doan Van Yen, 39, and his wife from the northern province of Tuyen Quang have not gone home for many Tet now. He said travel fares during the festival season are higher than normal, as are the prices for gifts.

National radio Voice of Vietnam said the city Management Board of Industrial Parks and Export Processing Zones spent VND8 billion ($384,310) on Tet gifts for workers. The board union also raised funds to buy 6,000 bus tickets and more than VND700 million ($33,600) to help workers, especially those who have not gone home for many years, make a trip this time.

National crisis

Figures from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs showed that 103 businesses in 27 cities and provinces now owe salaries to their workers. The debts had totaled more than VND70 billion ($3.36 million), to 10,191 workers, by the end of last year.

Officials announced at a government meeting in late December that 51,800 businesses had been hit hard enough by the economic crisis in 2012 that they went bankrupt or had to scale down their operations.

Minister Pham Thi Hai Chuyen said she had ordered local governments to use some of their budget money to pay workers who are owed, and has proposed that the central government use the state budget for some vocational support.

It said many workers, at least nearly 4,000 of them, have lost their jobs recently as Sanyo OPT Device Company, which produced optical and related devices for Sanyo, closed down in the northern province of Bac Giang earlier this month.

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