Workers call out bosses for extortion

November 22, 2009
Call center agents working at a mobile network facility in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hoang Thanh Tra quit her job at a call center last week, complaining that her employers had withheld VND800,000 in pay that was rightfully hers.

“Nine out of every ten of my colleagues said they would also quit working sooner or later,” said Tra, who used to work for Niem Tin Viet Company in Ho Chi Minh City. She said the main reason for quitting was usually the fact that workers were paid far lower sums than stipulated in their contracts.

Tra said she had been promised a monthly salary of VND1.4 million (US$78) for the first month and higher rates in the following months.

However, her pay was cut by VND300,000 as a “deposit” to the company and another VND500,000 for three days in which she was absent.

According to Tra, she had been absent on one of the occasions because she had rushed to the hospital with a sudden genital hemorrhage and returned with a doctor’s note confirming the episode. But a manager refused to accept the excuse.

A growing number of call center agents recruited and employed by private companies to work for major mobile networks have quit their jobs recently after their companies refused to pay them salaries previously agreed to.

Deposits to nowhere

Linh, a call center agent at Mat Troi Company in HCMC, was one such employee. Her company withheld a “deposit” of VND300,000 from her salary each month for her first three months of employment.

She was also told she would be fined an additional VND200,000 if her performance was poor.

Nguyen Thi Bach Tuyet, who worked at a call center at Niem Tin Viet Company, also quit her job on Monday. She lost her “deposit” of VND500,000 and her pay for the last two weeks of work. She said she only worked that long because she was waiting for September’s salary, which was paid on Monday, one and a half months late.

But worse, she had to pay an additional VND1 million to retrieve the original copy of her college degree the company had required upon hiring her.

Mass recruitments

Nguyen Duy Luat, head of the personnel section at the Diamond Media Joint Stock Company branch in HCMC, said he recruited around 50 new call center agents each month to fill empty places left by employees who quit.

The company currently employs some 800 call center agents to work for Viettel, both at the call center’s office and on site at the telecom company’s office.

Doan Quang Sang, chairman of Niem Tin Viet Company, said about 60 percent of the firm’s call center agents quit their jobs every year.

He said the company continuously recruited new employees to fill in the empty places because it had been contracted to supply a fixed number of call center agents for several networks, including VinaPhone, Viettel and EVN telcos.

But he denied that the company had withheld money from workers.

Contracts not worth paper they’re written on

Sang also admitted his company had yet to obtain a business license from the city’s Department of Investment and Planning.

“We‘re actually licensed as a postal agent,” he said, adding that the company had been in the call center line of work for about five or six years.

Attorney Nguyen Van Hau from the HCMC Bar Association said his office was aware of call centers that were violating the Labor Law by extorting employees in various ways.

“We have to ring the alarm bell to prevent other unemployed people from becoming victims of these companies,” he said, adding that the call centers were an easy trap as many had lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis this last year.

“It is illegal to force workers to pay VND1 million when they quit without permission. Such compensation must be calculated on the monthly salary and can legally be no more than half of a month’s salary,” he said.

He also said Niem Tin Viet Company had violated labor laws by failing to follow the legal labor contract form and tacking-on gratuitous clauses to contracts.

Hau also said it was illegal for the company to pay salaries late without paying interest.

He has said labor laws ban the docking of pay as punishment and stipulate that any deductions for other reasons can only be implemented after a discussion between the worker and the local labor union.

Such deductions cannot be more than 30 percent of the monthly salary, he said, adding that workers could file a lawsuit at the district court against companies that violate these rules.

On the case

Nguyen Quoc Viet, deputy inspector at the municipal Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said there was a strict form that all labor contracts must take and that deviations from it were illegal.

He also said workers should only have to deposit money with the company if they are handed valuable properties for use outside the company.

“We will inspect these [call center] companies to uncover violations,” he told Thanh Nien Weekly. He said this was the first time he had heard of the problem.

He said it could be difficult to handle all violations due to limited personnel.

“We have only about 20 inspectors in the field while there are more than 200,000 companies in the city.”

Reported by Minh Hung

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