The monthly minimum salary that took effect on January 1 could not cover workers' living costs, representatives of trade unions in Ho Chi Minh City have said.

Under the law, minimum monthly salaries in HCM City were raised to 3.1 million VND (142 USD), 400,000 VND higher than the previous threshold.

At a recent workshop, Nguyen Tran Phuong Tran, deputy chairwoman of the city's Labour Federation, said that, as of April 20, 3,904 enterprises in HCM City had increased their monthly wages.

She said that some companies had raised their wages even higher than the State's requirement, but many of them had stopped giving allowances for accommodation, petrol, and meals.

Tran Thi Hong Van, chairwoman of the trade union at Nissei Electric Vietnam in Linh Trung Export Processing Zone, said total living expenses for a couple with two children were 10 million VND (476 USD) each month.

"The average income of workers is more than 4 million VND (190 USD)," Van said.

To increase their income, they have been allowed to work more shifts. However, even with 148 hours per month, they earn only 6 million VND (185.7 USD), according to the chairwoman.

Nguyen Van Khue, chairman of the trade union at Domex Company in the Linh Trung Export Processing Zone, said that all of its workers had registered to work extra hours, but the company told them it did not have enough orders.

He said the employees who wanted to work more hours "stopped working" for a few hours to protest the decision by the company. Some workers had quit, he said.

Khue said that many companies had not raised the salary grade of workers even after the new minimum wage was passed.

Representatives said the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour should petition the Government to increase the wage by 18-20 percent.

Meanwhile, trade unions in foreign direct investment (FDI) enterprises in southern province of Dong Nai, for many years, have launched several measures to assist the employees.

In their role of representing and protecting the legal rights of employees, trade unions have negotiated with employers to increase salaries and benefits in recent years.

Employees in many FDI businesses have been offering benefits, such as low-price breakfasts and accommodation.

Besides, unions have organised after-work activities and holiday trips for workers to help improve their quality of daily life.

For many years, the trade union of the Vietnam Precision Industrial Joint Stock Company (VPIC) in Ho Nai Industrial Zone has defined its main task as negotiating for higher salaries and bonuses.

Trade unions say that due to their active participation, democracy in businesses has been considerably improved. Company leaders have also agreed to make profits public. They have also accepted a trade union proposal to pay bonuses to workers if profits rise.

At present, VPIC workers get a bonus of up to 10 days' salary and are offered a free meal worth 25,000 VND. The workers have a monthly income of 8 million VND (370 USD).

The company has also offered low-price accommodation to employees at rents of 700,000 VND (32 USD) per month. The dormitories have a library, a playground and sports area.

A leader of the trade union said the union also acted as a bridge between employers and employees.

Meanwhile, at the Teakwang Vina Company in Bien Hoa Industrial Zone 2, the trade union opened a low-price supermarket for workers.

Dinh Sy Phu, chairman of the company's trade union, said that protecting the rights of workers had been carried out regularly.

Whenever the Government decided to adjust salaries, the union pushed for higher levels. At present, Teakwang workers earn a monthly income of 7 million VND (320 USD).

In the Month of Worker this year, the company held a football tournament and set aside 5 billion VND (230,000 USD) to buy gifts for its 26,000 employees.

Besides, the company has given financial assistance to build houses for poor employees.

According to trade union representatives in FDI businesses in Dong Nai Province, most foreign investors do not understand much about Vietnamese workers' way of thinking and working customs.

To ensure rights and benefits of employees and employers, the trade union must regularly explain the Government's policies as well as employees' demands.-VNA