Vietnamese workers at Chinese factory in Serbia seek help
ZRENJANIN, Serbia –
They are shivering in the barracks with no heat, hunger and no money. They say their passports were taken by their Chinese owners and that they are now stranded in a grim plain in Serbia with no help from local authorities.
These are Vietnamese workers who are helping to build China’s first car tire factory in Europe. The Associated Press visited a construction site in northern Serbia, where some 500 workers were living in harsh conditions as China’s Shandong Linglong Tire Company set up a massive facility.
The project, which Serbian and Chinese officials tout as a demonstration of the “strategic partnership” between the two countries, has come under scrutiny from environmentalists for potentially dangerous pollution from the production. tire export.
It has now attracted the attention of human rights groups in Serbia, who have warned that the workers could be victims of human trafficking or even slavery.
Serbian activist Miso Zivanov of the NGO Zrenjaninska Akcija (Zrenjanin Action) told the AP news agency: “We are witnessing human rights violations for the sake of the Vietnamese (workers). are working in bad conditions. living.
“Their passports and identification documents were taken away by their Chinese employer,” he said. “They’ve been here since May and only get one salary. They’re trying to return to Vietnam but first need to get their papers back.”
Workers sleep on bunk beds without mattresses in barracks with no heaters or warm water. They told the AP they did not get medical care even if they developed COVID-19-like symptoms, told by their manager to simply stay in their room.
Mr. Nguyen Van Tri, one of the workers, said that he was not satisfied with the work contract he signed in Vietnam before leaving for Serbia.
“Since we got here, nothing has been good,” he said. “Everything is different from the documents we signed in Vietnam. Life is terrible, food, medicine, water ΓÇª everything is bad.”
Wearing sandals and shivering from the cold, he said about 100 of his workers living in the same barracks went on strike to protest their plight and some of them were fired because of it.
Linglong did not return an AP call seeking comment but denied to Serbian media that the company was responsible for the workers, blaming their plight on subcontractors and employment agencies in Vietnam. . It said the company did not recruit Vietnamese workers from the start. It promises to return documents it says were taken to stamp work and residence permits.
The company denied that Vietnamese workers lived in poor conditions and said their monthly wages were paid in proportion to the number of hours worked.
Democratic-run Serbia is a focal point for Chinese investment and expansion policies in Europe, and Chinese companies have kept their projects private amid reports that they violated anti-pollution laws and labor regulations of the Balkan country.
Chinese banks have lent Serbia billions of dollars to finance Chinese companies that build highways, railways, factories and employ their own construction workers. This is not the first time human rights groups have pointed out possible violations of workers’ rights, including those of Chinese miners at a copper mine in eastern Serbia.
After days of silence, Serbian officials spoke out against the “inhumane” conditions at the construction site but were quick to downplay China’s responsibility for the workers’ plight.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said she “would not rule out that the attack on the Linglong factory” was organized by opponents of Chinese investments “in Serbia – alluding to frequent criticisms.” from the West that Chinese projects there are not transparent, ecologically questionable and designed by Beijing to spread its political influence in Europe.
“At first it was the environment. Now they forget that and they focus on the workers there. After tomorrow there will be something else,” she said.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday that a Serbian labor inspector had been sent to the Linglong construction site but declined on the expected outcome of the final findings.
“What do they want? Do they want us to destroy the $900 million investment?” Vucic asked.