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Scanty Tet bonus for teachers

As Vietnam's businesses prepare to shell out generous year-end bonuses, the nation's teachers lament that they'll receive little or nothing

Teachers, nationwide, are receiving scanty Tet (Lunar New Year) bonuses again this year

As the Lunar New Year approaches, employees all over Vietnam look forward to receiving Tet bonuses.

Traditionally, the money is used to buy new clothing and furniture for one's household during the eight-day holiday. Extended relatives expect gifts and children expect red envelopes stuffed with "lucky money."

Employers generally pay an extra month's salary to help everyone through the exorbitant holiday.

Bankers and corporate executives may receive thousands of dollars during this season. Vietnam's annual income per capita is about US$1,200.

Meanwhile, the nation's teachers find themselves dependent on their schools' financial planning and the charity of parent organizations to see them through the holiday.

Raising the bar

This year, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee will pay VND700,000 ($35.90) to every city school teacher for the holiday. The sum represents an increase of VND100,000 ($5.13) from last year.

Drawing from money collected from parking fees and night classes, some schools have managed to pay teachers between VND8-15 million ($410-769) each. One District 3 school was reported to have paid VND30 million ($1,538) to its teachers.

Nguyen Hoang Viet, principal of the Phu Nhuan High School in the eponymous district, where teachers received VND10 million ($512) for Tet, argued that every school receives enough money to cover teachers' salary and other expenditures when the school year starts.

"Schools that budget carefully should have more than enough money at the end of the year to give Tet bonuses to thank and encourage teachers," Viet said.

Nguyen Van Thinh, principal of the Phan Van Tri Elementary School in District 1, said his school has managed to grant teachers VND2 million ($102) in bonuses, thanks to careful planning and the extra money brought in from night classes.

Last year, teachers received just VND150,000 ($7.69), Thinh added.

Small school, small bonus

Each school's budget is determined by the number of students enrolled, according to an official from the HCMC Department of Education and Training's planning and finance division, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It's up to the schools to figure out how to spend that money, the official said, adding that small schools rarely have any money left when Tet comes around.

High schools often have far more students than elementary schools, so they usually have year-end surpluses, the official added.

This year, teachers at the Doc Lap Secondary School in Phu Nhuan District complained that while their colleagues in the same district have received VND10 million ($513) bonuses, they haven't been paid a penny over the city's contribution.

"Worse still, we haven't even received our December salary in full yet," one teacher complained.

Huynh Thi Anh Tuyet, vice principal at Doc Lap, said they haven't paid teachers salaries fully because their wage fund has run out.

According to Tuyet, thanks to parents' donations, her school will manage to give each teacher VND1.1 million ($56.42) at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, some schools like Dien Bien Elementary in District 3 have failed to meet the mandated minimum. This year, the school could only afford to pay VND1 million ($51.30) - a sum that includes the city bonus.

Principal Tran Minh Thu said the bonuses have been meager at his school for years, which has around 100 students. Most of the students come from underprivileged families.

"Our teachers often joke that "˜once you work at this school, you'll mainly live on spirit," he added.

Little or nothing

Hanoi teachers fared even worse than their southern colleagues. The city does not pay bonuses to teachers, who must rely entirely on the charity of students and parents.

Most of the schools contacted by Thanh Nien, said they gave their teachers around VND500,000 ($25.65) each. Some managed to award their employees millions of dong, thanks to supplemental income brought in from parking fees and classroom rentals paid by private foreign language and computer instructors.

Nguyen Thi Thoa, principal of the Hong Ky Kindergarten in Hanoi's Soc Son District, said most parents of children enrolled in his school are farmers that live on a nearby dumping site. They don't have money to contribute to school improvements or teacher bonuses.

"We have tried our best to collect extras for Tet bonuses, but we only managed to give each of them a few hundred thousand dong," Thoa said.

Many teachers in the Central Highlands and rural areas throughout Vietnam receive next to nothing for Tet.

Nong Thi Giap, deputy chief of Na Ri District's Department of Education in the northern mountainous province of Bac Kan, said she has worked as a teacher and an education official for more than 20 years but she "has never received a Tet bonus."

The best her district can afford to do, she said, is pay December and January salaries in advance of the holiday.

Hoang Van Dong, head of Mu Cang Chai District's Education Department in Yen Bai Province, said they've never had surplus funds to cover bonuses; they can barely afford to pay basic salaries to teachers.

Dong explained that the school spends a lot on moving teachers around to accommodate the region's scattered communities.

Nguyen Thi Huong, a teacher from Dak Choong Secondary School in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum also said she and her colleagues have never received any community support or official bonuses for Tet, so they usually spend their savings during the holiday.

Bonus envy

In a recent interview, Ho Thieu Hung, former director of the HCMC Department of Education and Training, urged the government to set a minimum Tet bonus of one month's salary for teachers - saying that meager salaries and bonuses would discourage good people from joining the education industry.

"When the education industry fails to attract good people, society suffers dire consequences," he stressed.

In the meantime, many teachers reported feeling ambivalent about the coming holiday season.

"We can't help feeling self-pity when organizations and companies announce Tet bonuses," said Thanh Quynh, a kindergarten teacher.

"This gap shouldn't continue indefinitely," said an elementary school teacher in District 10. "It discourages people who work to nurture the country's future hopes.

Why don't we have a stable bonus for Tet like other industries? Instead we're left to rely on budget surpluses which seem to be a matter of luck?"