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13 Mär 2024

Sasa Dragojlo, BIRN

Serbia: New details emerge of alleged exploitation of Indian workers by Chinese company CEEG TEPC, including illegal contracts & 'renting out' labour

"‘Modus Operandi’: Chinese Firm’s Trail of Debt, Labour Exploitation in Serbia" March 13 2024

Rafiul Bux saw an ad for a New Delhi recruitment agency called M&S International... an agent told him he could work in Serbia for the extravagantly-named China Energy Engineering Group Tianjin Electric Power Construction, or CEEG TEPC for short...The agency fee, however, was $3,500, saddling him with a bank loan; then there were the working and living conditions he encountered in Serbia...the unpaid salaries, and the fact his passport was held by his employer for months on end.

Following media reports, CEEG TEPC paying off the debts of 11 of them, including Bux, and flew them back to India on February 4, but that has not stopped prosecutors from launching a case...Nothing has been proven yet, but documents examined by BIRN in consultation with experts point strongly to a case of organised labour exploitation, only a few years after the first such accusations were made against CEEG TEPC concerning the alleged human trafficking of Vietnamese nationals...

Both the Vietnamese and the Indians were brought in to work for CEEG TEPC at the Zrenjanin site of a tyre factory operated by Chinese tyre giant Shandong Linglong...Once in Serbia, the Indians were put to work without work permits...Similarly, in January 2022, Serbia’s Labour Inspectorate found that 318 Vietnamese had been working for CEEG TEPC without work permits at the Linglong site...“That means this is not an isolated incident, but a modus operandi,”... BIRN emailed CEEG TEPC at its public inquiries address but the messages bounced back; its listed phone numbers also did not work.

The contracts the Indians signed, once they were already in Serbia, are highly problematic...The contract states that any overtime – above the 10 hours per day of ‘regular’ work – would be compensated at the same rate, which is also illegal under Serbian law...

To make matters worse, when there wasn’t much work on at Linglong, CEEG TEPC effectively ‘rented out’ its workers to other Chinese companies operating in Serbia, without filing any of the necessary paperwork...If the Indians were indeed ‘rented out’ to other companies, it is another sign of “slave-owning behaviour”...

According to statements given to police, in August last year, at least eight Indians – including B.P. – were sent by CEEG TEPC to work on another Serbian state-backed project – a high-speed rail line between the northern cities of Novi Sad and Subotica.

B.P. told police he worked for China Railway International, CRI.

Others told police that on January 31, 2023, CEEG TEPC managers demanded they sign a document stating they were actually employed by a Subotica-based company called LYQ d.o.o., that their salaries had been paid in full, and that their contracts were officially terminated.

The Indians refused and told police that they were physically assaulted.


According to BIRN’s findings, LYQ d.o.o. was founded in January 2023 by Chinese citizen Tang Hengzhen and registered at the same address as the workers from Vietnam and India.


Mr Guy’s phone number, given to police by the Indian workers, can be found in the Serbian business registry as the contact number of LYQ d.o.o.

The number did not work when BIRN tried it. Nor did the number registered under Hengzhen as LYQ’s official owner.

According to NGO Astra, which is representing the workers, on February 1 a Belgrade lawyer called Dejan Grujic approached the Indians with ‘power of attorney’ documents that he urged them to sign, saying they would get back the money owed to them under the condition they end any contact with the media or NGOs.