Lao workers at a Chinese-owned cement works in Luang Prabang are complaining of abuse and unfair practices, saying they are being made to work long hours at no extra pay and describing physical assaults by Chinese employees of the plant.
Those reporting late for work find their salaries cut, one worker at the CONH Luang Prabang Co., Ltd., factory in Luang Prabang City told RFA’s Lao Service in an interview this week.
“But if we work two or three hours overtime, we aren’t paid for the extra time,” the worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Some days, we don’t even get a lunch break,” he said, adding, “Many of us have quit.”
Also speaking to RFA, another worker confirmed the factory’s refusal to pay overtime for extra hours worked.
“But if we’re even two or three minutes late, our salary will be reduced,” the worker said, adding that no health care is provided for factory employees, and that workers falling ill must pay for their care by themselves.
Meanwhile, Chinese factory employees freely beat and assault Lao workers at the plant, sometimes tying them together and forcing them to stand for long hours in the sun, other sources said.
“I once put some pieces of rusty scrap metal and put them in the back of my pick-up truck, but three Chinese men stopped me at the gate,” a truck driver hired by the factory told RFA.
“A short time later, another worker drove up to the gate with two bags in his truck, and the Chinese stopped the guy and then handcuffed the two of us together and had us stand out in the sun for 12 hours.”
“They also hit my truck and kicked the other guy, accusing us of stealing electrical wires,” he said.
In another incident, a plant security guard said that while on duty one day at 2:00 a.m., he picked up a piece of wire to tighten a fence. “Suddenly, the Chinese came and accused me of stealing it, and hit me on the face, legs, and arms,” he said.
Another worker meanwhile said that he had witnessed beatings too. “About two weeks ago, I saw the Chinese tying up two Lao workers together and then kicking them,” he said.
'They must be charged'
Speaking to RFA, a local police officer said that the Lao workers who were attacked should have reported the matter immediately to village authorities.
“What the Chinese did was wrong,” he said. “They must be charged.”
Responding to a report by a village leader that in a separate incident Chinese employees of the factory had also tied and beat two teenage Lao boys, a factory representative told RFA, “They were not our workers, they were from the neighborhood.”
“Our company has rules to prevent outsiders from coming in and stealing our stuff. This has happened many times in the past,” he said.
The Chinese employees’ actions reported by Lao workers at the factory “are wrong and need to be investigated,” an official from the Luang Prabang Labor and Social Welfare Department told RFA in an interview this week.
“We investigated this factory months ago, but we had no access to workers. We only spoke to the management team,” he said.
On Jan. 15, the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment reported that 800 companies are now invested in 12 special economic zones nationwide. These employ only 2,607 Lao workers, though, only 9.74 percent of the total workforce of 27,000, the Ministry said.
Most workers are Chinese, making up about 20,000 of the total, with Vietnamese workers numbering about 3,500, according to Ministry figures.
Chinese-owned industrial, hydropower, mining, and tourism projects in Laos have meanwhile caused friction with local residents over pollution, loss of farmland, and economic compensation for displaced villagers, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.