Catfish workers hurt by material shortage

15/09/2014

Catfish processing workers in the Mekong Delta provinces have recently been left with little work, since the industry is facing a severe raw materials shortage.

Hundreds of workers at the Hung Vuong Chau Au seafood processing plant in Tien Giang have had to leave the plant as early as 3pm some days since there are not enough raw materials for them to stay longer, a recent report by Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper said.

Phan Thi Yen Dam, the plant’s foreperson, said that never in her eight years of experience in the industry has she seen such severe shortages.

“Our plant used to process as many as 200 tons of catfish a day, but the figure has dropped to only 100 tons over the last month,” she said.

For his part, Trung, a worker, lamented that the short material supply would accordingly reduce his income.

“We have to process 100 to 120 kilograms of products between 5am and 6pm everyday to earn a monthly wage of VND6 million,” he said.

“But since October, we have had to stop working around 3pm, and daily income has thus dropped by VND40,000 a day compared with the usual amount.”

Workers have also been forced to work just five days a week, making matters even worse..

But those working for Hung Vuong Chau Au still have better luck than their peers at other processing facilities such as Ngoc Ha, Hiep Long, Viet Phu, and An Phat, who only work four days a week.

This drop in working days has cut their monthly wages from VND6 million to a mere VND2 million.

“There was a time when I even had to work only two days a week,” a worker in the An Phat processing plant said.

“I can only receive 70 percent of the basic wage on every day-off, and earn less than VND2 million a month.”

To temporarily deal with the challenge, many plants have resorted to using undersized catfish of less than 800 grams for workers to continue their work.

Meanwhile, with their payment calculations based on the number of products they can process, many workers have had to compete with each other by showing up at the plants early to grab more fish.

If I’m late by just a couple of minutes, there will not be many fish for me,” Thuong, a worker, said.

Thuong added that since he lives 10 kilometers away from the plant, he has to get up at 4am to make sure he doesn’t fall far behind the queue to get the fish.

Processors suffer, too

Nguyen Van Ky, director of Agifish An Giang Seafood JSC, said that while the company used to have 250 tons of materials for processing everyday, there have recently only been 150 tons to work with.

He said most catfish processing plant in the Delta are suffering from the shortage.

“Some even have to stay closed or operate at 50 percent capacity,” he said, adding that Agifish An Giang itself had to cut production and reduce labor wages.

Duong Ngoc Minh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors, admitted that the short material supply has put many catfish processors in a tough spot.

“Around 70 percent of the small processors are affected by this shortage,” Minh said. With their plants running below capacity, many processors are facing heavy expense burdens.

The director of a catfish processing company said his plant has managed to gather enough materials for only four days of processing over the last few months.

But the company still had to spend full-week expenses on power, administrative, maintenance costs and labor wages, he lamented.