Rubber tappers struggle to stay healthy at work

A female worker of the Phu Rieng Rubber Co. Ltd. in Phu Rieng Commune, Binh Phuoc Province, harvests latex. Many rubber tappers face serious health problems when they are only in their 40s.

HA NOI - At 43, most labourers are still at an ideal age for work. But Tran Thi Nhan and many other workers in the rubber industry says she is suffering from backaches and her eyes are growing dim.

"Working continuously for many years in high humidity and limited sunlight and inhaling carbonic gas (CO2), it would be weird if we did not contract a disease," said Nhan, a latex harvester at the Phu Rieng Rubber Plantation in southern Binh Duong Province.

Every day, like all her colleagues in team No 12, Nhan arrive for work early in the morning, so as she will have enough time to harvest latex from between 400 and 500 rubber trees.

After a mid-morning break for food and drink, the workers cut lines into the trees to collect rubber milk. They carry their baskets holding up to 20 to 40 litres of latex to a central location a kilometre away.

"The work is repeated day after day. I'm just over 40 years old, but my eyes have lost their lustre and my bones and joints are aching," Nhan told Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper.

"I just want to finish work, but it would mean early retirement. I thought twice and decided to keep attempting to work."

According to Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, a latex harvester at the Dong Nai Rubber Corporation's An Loc Plantation, due to a regular exposure to chemicals, latex stimulants, and plant pesticides, the majority of labourers who directly harvest latex contract diseases such as anaemia, dim eyes and backaches.

"Quite a few are unable to fulfil their duty because of bad health and they ask to cease work at the age of between 40 and 45," she said.

"It is disadvantageous if they can't wait until they reach retirement age. Many people I know have to ask for help from family members or hire idle labourers to help so they can enjoy retirement benefits."

According to Lao Dong newspaper, to ensure health and prevent occupational diseases, the Viet Nam Rubber Group equips them with gloves, boots, hats, face masks and lights. Despite this, long exposure to harmful working conditions leaves many workers unhealthy.

A survey by the Viet Nam Rubber Group showed that up to 46.5 per cent of labourers had a medium to weak level of health whereas 11.5 per cent were extremely weak.

The survey also showed that nearly 60 per cent of labourers stopped working due to bad health.

Chairman of the Viet Nam Rubber Group's Trade Union, Phan Manh Hung, said the body had conducted a sociological survey and investigation with more than 1,000 female workers directly harvesting latex at 10 enterprises in the south-eastern region.

The results indicated that most aged 40 or more suffered from backache, anaemia, dim eyes, and gynaecological diseases.

The survey also said that 909 workers, or 91.1 per cent of the total people asked, said they wanted to retire before 50. Another 846 workers desired to retire at 45.

Hung said the trade union had recommended the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour work with the Government and relevant authorities to consider reducing the retirement age for female workers who have paid social insurance for 20 years and been harvesting latex for 15 years.