Interviews: Covid-19 in the wood furniture manufacturing sector Viet Nam

We have been keeping in touch with SCORE Trained enterprises around the globe to see how Covid-19 is impacting their business & how they are taking care of workers. Used to looking for ways to overcome challenges, most companies are optimistic that they can survive until we return to a “new normal” in the medium-term. Here, two companies from the wood furniture sector in Viet Nam describe what their businesses and workers are doing to keep going during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how they see their future.

Article | 30 April 2020
Interview with Pham Thi Thu Ha
Chairperson of the board of Viet A Furniture Ltd.

“At this time of the year we normally have around 80 workers, but this year we have only 55, they are all staff that have been with us for a long time.
We started our fight against Covid 19 very early, I think even before any formal instructions were issued. We purchased masks, required workers to wear them the at all times in the workshop, sprayed disinfectant and performed body temperature checks. Our company also had an internal communication campaign to explain to the workers how serious the situation was and encourage cooperation. I recall at that time we had to search for all sources of information and guidance from MOH, WHO etc… to understand how to conduct these prevention measures correctly (e.g. which solutions were best to disinfect the machines, products, floors…)"

"It has been a very tough time, and I still don’t have much time for anything else besides managing the situation at work. However, I also see there are opportunities. When we can find ways to understand our customers better and ride this challenge together, when we can stabilize our output and utilize our current workforce.
Yes, we have definitely made alot of adjustments. We have outsourced some parts of the production process. Everyone is now multitasking, rather than operating specialized units. We switched many of our activities where possible from on-site to on-line. All office staff in Ha Noi are working from home, which we began even before the social distancing directive from the government.
I have to say that we were not prepared for this new working arrangement. There were many problems, from IT infrastructure (equipment, data, cloud storage, security etc.) to the wellbeing of staff working online and working from home. Many staff still consider this a temporary arrangement, but so far we have not developed an effective procedure to manage the performance of online work and working from home."

"In my opinion, the most important support for SMEs like us is the welfare package that government provides for workers whose income is reduced or eliminated due to Covid 19. A fast and effective disbursement of this package will help SMEs to take better care of their employees and retain the workforce until they can fully resume work. “

Interview with Nguyen Ngoc Tinh,
Director of Tan Hoa 1 Furniture Ltd.

"Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Tan Hoa had over 200 workers. After Tet holiday (Lunar New Year), many of our workers did not return to work fearing the infection. For other workers who travelled back to their hometown for the holidays, we encouraged them to stay at home and follow the government's social distancing guidelines, minimizing the risk to other workers at the factory. Currently we are only able to keep 80 employees for completing existing orders. However, these orders can only keep us running until the end of April. After we will be able to stockpile production to maintain jobs for workers until the end of June. If there is no new orders, our company may have to suspend operations at the end of June." 

"Many businesses around us have stopped working. We are one of the two wood companies in Long Binh area of Dong Nai province that are still operating at this time."

"Currently, we have asked active workers to move into the company’s free dormitory to reduce living costs, and reduce risk of infection travelling to and from the factory. We also are providing food cost subsidies."

"Cash flow is one of the biggest difficulties for us in the current situation. During these unprecedented times, we believe that banks should simplify procedures and support loan extensions as well as apply preferential interest rates for short-term business loans."

"At present, we have no specific plan to adjust our business model after the pandemic since we are maximising effort to ensure employment for workers and reducing loss. We recognize that small and medium sized enterprises like us have really limited resources and capacity to cope with serious situations such as this pandemic."

"In our opinion, low skill workers are very vulnerable and most affected by the pandemic. If the support from government does not arrive on time, it will be completely beyond the ability of businesses to support their workers if the pandemic and lockdown is prolonged."