A Worker’s Life Under the Covid-19 Lockdown

Mrs Thong (centre), 58, and her friends share the struggles they experienced during the lockdown – Sikhottabong District. Recyclable waste seller.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced governments around the world to impose strict measures to contain the potentially deadly virus.
 
As in other parts of the world, Lao authorities initiated a nationwide lockdown to limit the movement of citizens. They believed this strategy would slow the spread of the disease so that the healthcare system would be able to accommodate a slow increase in the number of cases.
 
The lockdown measures enforced from April 1 to 30 brought different changes to different groups of people. Many were able to work from home and continue to earn a salary. But workers like Ms Thong and her friends have faced great pressure in making a living.
 
‘’We are suffering a lot from the pandemic,’’ she said, while her friends who also took part in the interview expressed the same feelings.
 
Before the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, they bought used bottles, paper and metal items from people, businesses and factories which they resold to recycling plants. They made a daily profit of about 50,000 kip (USD 5.54).
 
But the strict lockdown measures meant they were unable to continue this work, which had been their only source of income for several decades.
 
‘’Without a job, I could not make any money so we had to eat less,’’ Ms Thong said, as her straightforward response to a reporter evoked laughter from her friends.
 
Ms Thong said that in recent decades she had collected no savings from the work she did so she had no spare money to support herself and her family during the current crisis, adding that she had had to make changes to her way of life and consumption habits.
 
She said she sometimes gathered vegetables that grew in wetlands and on nearby rice farms, or went to get food from companies that offered aid to the poor.
 
‘’In Laos, we are lucky that we still have wetlands otherwise we would have nothing to eat,’’ she said, adding that her children sometimes gave her money and food, which helped to relieve the pressure a little bit.
 
She said she lived in the same house as her two children and their wives, who were all daily workers so could not provide her with much support. This meant she had to rely on her own resources.
 
Ms Thong said what she needed most was food such as rice and other items, as well as a basic living allowance, adding that even though the authorities had relaxed the lockdown measures she could not return to work for now.
 
“It will be a month before business resumes as normal so that I can do the kind of work I did in the past,’’ she said, explaining that her work was dependent on the supply of reusable items produced by people and businesses around Vientiane.
 
When asked about government aid during the crisis, she said she did not expect any benefits as she was not considered to be a formal worker.
 
She also said she heard that electricity charges would be reduced, however her latest bill indicated she would have to pay more for electricity.
 
When asked about her future work plans, she said that what she wanted the most was to return to work so she could earn a living, adding that life under the lockdown and Covid-19 placed too much pressure on her.
 
‘’It is very stressful to have no job or income. We have to think about what we will eat the next day,’ she said, adding that although she sometimes got tired after working hard at least she could earn some money to support her family.
 
She also said that going out to work was much better than doing nothing as she was able to communicate with friends and other people, which helped to boost her spirits. Find out more about COVID-19 and Responses from Laos and the Greater Mekong Subregion