The Associated Press (AP) published a report today on the difficult living conditions of Vietnamese workers on the construction site of the Chinese company Linglong near Zrenjanin, stating that while Serbian and Chinese officials consider the project an indicator of “strategic partnership”, human rights activists warn that workers could be victims human trafficking or even slavery.
“We are witnessing human rights violations because the Vietnamese (workers) are working in terrible conditions,” activist of the non-governmental organization Zrenjaninska akcija told AP Miso Zivanov. He said that Chinese employers took the workers’ passports and personal documents and that they received only one salary, even though they have been there since May.
Workers sleep on bunk beds without mattresses, in barracks without heating and hot water, the AP said, adding that they were told they had not received any medical care even when they developed symptoms similar to kovid-19, when managers told them to simply stay. in their rooms.
Nguyen Van Tri, one of the workers, told the AP that nothing had been fulfilled since the employment contract he signed in Vietnam before he went on a long trip to Serbia. In sandals and shivering in the cold, he said that about 100 of his fellow workers who live in the same barracks went on strike in protest and that some of them were fired because of that.
The agency states that they did not receive the requested comment from the Chinese company, but that Linglong denied for the Serbian media that the company is responsible for the workers, blaming subcontractors and employment agencies in Vietnam for their situation.
It was said that the company did not employ Vietnamese workers at all, and it was promised to return the documents that were said to have been taken in order to print work and residence permits. The company denied that the Vietnamese workers live in bad conditions and announced that their monthly salaries were paid in accordance with the number of working hours, according to the AP.
The agency also states that “Serbia under the leadership of populists is a key point for Chinese expansion and investment policy in Europe” and that “Chinese companies keep their projects in strict secrecy while reports say they are violating anti-pollution laws and labor regulations” in Serbia.
Chinese banks have approved billions of dollars in loans to Serbia to finance Chinese companies that build highways, railways and factories and employ their own construction workers, according to the AP.
The agency adds that this is not the first time that human rights organizations point out possible violations of workers’ rights and cites as an example the rights of Chinese miners in a copper mine in eastern Serbia.
A report from the Linglong AP construction site also says that after several days of silence, Serbian officials spoke out against “inhumane” conditions on the construction site, but also hurried to reduce China’s responsibility for the difficult position of workers.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that “she would not rule out that the attack on the Linglong factory was organized by” those who are against Chinese investments “in Serbia, alluding to frequent criticism from the West that Chinese projects there are not transparent, environmentally questionable and that Beijing designed to expand its political influence in Europe.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday that a labor inspection had been sent to the Linglong construction site, but was open about the expected outcome of any findings. “What does he want? Do we want to destroy the investment of 900 million dollars?” Vucic asked, reminds the AP.