Rights groups in Serbia fear workers at Chinese factory may be trafficked
Vietnamese workers helping to build China’s first car tire factory in Europe are shivering in barracks with no heat, hungry, no money, and no help from local authorities.
Around 500 of the workers live in harsh conditions in northern Serbia as the Chinese company Shandong Linglong Tire Co. builds a huge factory.
The project, which Serbian and Chinese officials have touted as a demonstration of the two countries’ “strategic partnership”, has already come under scrutiny by environmentalists for potentially dangerous pollution from the production of tires.
Now this has caught the attention of human rights groups in Serbia, who have warned that workers could be victims of human trafficking or even slavery.
“We are witnessing a violation of human rights,” Serbian activist Miso Zivanov of the NGO Zrenjaninska Akcija (Zrenjanin Action) told The Associated Press in front of one of the warehouses where the workers lived.
“Their passports and identity documents were taken by their Chinese employers,” he said. “They have been here since May and they have only received one salary,” he said.
Workers sleep on bunk beds without mattresses in barracks without heating or hot water.
They told the AP they received no medical treatment, even when they developed COVID-19-like symptoms, being told by their managers to just stay in their rooms.
Nguyen Van Tri, one of the workers, said nothing was fulfilled in the employment contract he signed in Vietnam, including wages.
“We have a big problem,” he said. “No electricity, no water and no salary”.
In sandals and shivering with cold, a hundred of his colleagues who live in the same barracks went on strike to protest their fate.
Some of them were made redundant as a result.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday that the government will try to help Vietnamese workers, but will not disperse investors, as it is “hard work” to bring investors to Serbia.
Linglong did not respond to a call from the PA for comment, but denied to Serbian media that the company was responsible for the workers, attributing their situation to contractors and employment agencies in Vietnam.
He said the company did not employ Vietnamese workers in the first place.
He promised to return the documents that were allegedly taken to stamp work and residence permits.
The company denied that Vietnamese workers lived in poor conditions and said their monthly wages were paid according to the number of hours worked.
Populist-ruled Serbia is a key point for China’s expansion and investment policies in Europe, and Chinese companies have kept tight control over their plans amid reports that they are breaking anti-anti laws. pollution and labor regulations of the Balkan nation.
Chinese banks have given billions of euros in loans to Serbia to finance Chinese companies that build highways, railways and factories and employ their own construction workers.