THE first time Ms Thuuy left her home in Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa province to work abroad, the experience was rewarding.
In 2008, the global financial crisis hit her country hard and, seeing so many people out of work, she took a friend’s advice and went to Malaysia the year after.
Ms Thuuy, 29, had never been abroad and had no higher education, so she simply signed a contract and paid the recruitment firm a commission.
The gamble paid off.
She was employed by one of the world’s largest rubber-glove makers, Top Glove, in Selangor.
“It was really a stroke of good fortune. I had stable work, and decent working conditions and wages,” she said.
She was over the moon, working eight hours a day with what she described as “no exploitation, no abuse and no violence”. She received accommodation, and even health and social insurance.
Her second job brought her back to earth. She signed a contract she could not read as it was in English and Chinese, putting her trust in the broker.
Later, to her dismay, she found that 50 per cent of her income would go to the broker under the terms of the contract.
She had to do all kinds of work for pay that was so low she could not afford to eat, let alone pay for accommodation. She was forced to share a room at a rundown hostel with three to four others.
She had signed up for two years, and she said the broker threatened her when she did not comply, so she became desperate.
She called her mother, who told her to contact a labour support centre run by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Malaysia.
The centre, in cooperation with the Vietnamese Embassy there, helped her scrap the contract, which was deemed illegal.
She managed to complete all the procedures and get a ticket to fly home to Vietnam.
Her case is one of hundreds where the authorities have had to step in and help Vietnamese workers abroad get out of tricky situations, said Ms Ho Thi Nhung, the deputy head of the Jobs Promotion Office in Thanh Hoa.
She said most migrants from rural areas are farmers with little education or awareness of labour export legislation.
Last year saw a record high of 105,840 guest workers from Vietnam, according to the Overseas Labour Management Department (OLMD). From 2013, those going to Taiwan increased from 46,000 to 62,000; to Japan, from 9,600 to 20,000.
With the establishment of the Asean Economic Community later this year, the number of Vietnamese workers abroad is expected to rise yet again, said OLMD deputy head Tong Hai Nam.
Even Ms Thuuy, despite her second experience in Malaysia, is thinking of heading overseas again. Her next target is Japan – she heard she can earn as much as US$1,000 (about $1,340) a month there.
But her plans have already hit a snag. After paying a recruiter five million dong (around S$300) for an interview, she was told she would have to pay another 70 million dong once her ticket to Japan was arranged.
Crestfallen, she said she did not want to travel all the way to Hanoi from Thanh Hoa to get back the interview fee.
“I have to accept that I have lost the money,” she said.
VIETNAM NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK