College student Luong Ngoc Son has been spending about 20 hours a week working as a Grab bike driver for the past six months in Hanoi. Son said he earns about VND 4 million (USD 174) each month. It is a critical source of income for Son. He puts part the money toward his tuition; the rest covers his living expenses in the Vietnamese capital.
“This is much more than if I work as a part-time waiter, and I can choose my own schedule,” Son said. “This is the best part-time option for me now, because I also get the money right away, and it’s very flexible.”
Son, who is attending Hanoi College of Technology and Trading, said he has five or six friends from school who also work as bike drivers for ride-hailing companies such as Grab, GoViet, and Be.
They’re part of a new norm. College and university students are after quick cash, and working as ride-hailing drivers gives them a fair degree of flexibility in their work schedules. It’s increasingly common to see students in their late teens and early twenties leave campus on their motorbikes to spend a few hours ferrying passengers around Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other locations.
But this development has sparked concerns in the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh has requested ministries to consider placing a cap on the number of hours that college students can work in part-time roles, as reported by local media.
The deputy prime minister made his appeal based on recommendations from the National Traffic Safety Committee, which estimates that there are about 300,000 bike drivers working for ride-hailing companies in Vietnam. Officials believe that new regulations are necessary to ensure “the quality of human resources in the direction of a knowledge-based economy.”
If new rules are put in place to govern the amount of time college students can work each week, they will apply to all types of part-time jobs, not only ride-hailing. But the government is particularly concerned about students working as bike drivers, or xe ôm drivers, because of the physical demands and risk of being part of traffic accidents.
However, critics argue that students have the right to earn an income through any legal means, and have posed questions about the viability of such caps.
A lecturer at Vietnam’s Foreign Trade University (FTU) said this kind of regulation can be questionable as students have the right to work and manage their own time.
“I think we have to be very careful, and this could backfire as some students might find other ways to exceed the number of permitted working hours. That can also give more headaches to universities and management agencies. We might be able to pilot the scheme, but need to have further supportive policies for students who struggle financially,” she said.
The lecturer added that FTU, which is one of the most prestigious universities in Vietnam, strives to provide students with diverse part-time employment options.
Tran Huu Minh, deputy chief officer of the National Traffic Safety Committee, told local news outlet VnExpress that it’s feasible to limit students’ weekly part-time working hours to 20, as many countries have done so. He added that different government agencies will coordinate to assess the situation of students working as part-time bike drivers and in other roles, while acknowledging that students do have the right to work in “any type of legal part-time job.”
Currently, Grab, GoViet, and Be are the primary providers of bike taxi services in Vietnam.
In 2019, Grab said it had about 190,000 car and bike drivers operating in the country. GoViet, a subsidiary of Gojek, has about 125,000 bike offering transportation services on its platform; the company has not rolled out a car-hailing service in Vietnam. Be, another notable competitor, has about 60,000 drives for cars and bikes.
There’s strong appeal in working as a xe ôm driver for these firms. There’s no haggling or price negotiation. Drivers respond to hails from passengers on apps and don’t need to drive around seeking fares. Most importantly, payments are channeled through the platforms instantly.
Vu Minh Tuan, a 20-year-old student at Foreign Trade University, worked as a part-time bike driver for GoViet for six months. He said he earned up to VND 600,000–700,000 a day (USD 26–30), which was decent pay for a job that required no previous employment experience.
“The obvious thing I realized is that you can’t move up the ladder with this kind of work, but it was very flexible, and you can easily turn off the app when it’s raining or when you’re not free,” Tuan said. “I don’t think it’s fair to limit students because we’re responsible young adults.”
For Son, the plan is to find a part-time position soon, perhaps at a local hotel, to gain experience that will matter more to future employers. But, for now, being a Grab bike driver is not as rough as some people might expect. He said, “You get to meet a lot of people and learn how to serve your customer.”