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23 Nov 2021

Dusan Stojanovic, Associated Press

Serbia: Vietnamese workers at Chinese factory Shandong Linglong Tire Co. reportedly work under harsh conditions and having passports withheld

"Vietnamese workers at Chinese factory in Serbia cry for help", 20 Nov 2021

They are shivering in barracks without heat, going hungry and have no money. They say their passports have been taken by their Chinese employer and that they are now stuck in a grim plainland in Serbia with no help from local authorities. These are the Vietnamese workers who are helping build the first Chinese car tire factory in Europe. The Associated Press visited the construction site in northern Serbia where some 500 of the workers are living in harsh conditions as China's Shandong Linglong Tire Co. sets up the huge facility.

The project, which Serbian and Chinese officials tout as a display of the "strategic partnership" between the two countries, has already faced scrutiny from environmentalists over potentially dangerous pollution from tire production. [...]

"We are witnessing a breach of human rights because the Vietnamese (workers) are working in terrible conditions," Serbian activist Miso Zivanov of the Zrenjaninska Akcija (Zrenjanin Action) nongovernmental organization told [...] "Their passports and identification documents have been taken by their Chinese employers," he said. "They have been here since May, and they received only one salary. They are trying to get back to Vietnam but first need to get back their documents."

Workers sleep on bunk beds without mattresses in barracks with no heating or warm water. They told the AP that they have received no medical care even when they developed COVID-19-like symptoms, being told by their managers simply to remain in their rooms.

Nguyen Van Tri, one of the workers, said nothing has been fulfilled from the job contract he signed in Vietnam before embarking on the long journey to Serbia. "Since we arrived here, nothing is good," he said. "Everything is different from documents we signed in Vietnam. Life is bad, food, medicine, water … everything is bad." [...]

Linglong did not respond to an AP call seeking comment but denied to Serbian media that the company is responsible for the workers, blaming their situation on subcontractors and job agencies in Vietnam. It said the company did not employ the Vietnamese workers in the first place. It promised to return the documents it said were taken to stamp work and residency permits. The company denied that the Vietnamese workers are living in poor conditions and said their monthly salaries were paid in accordance with the number of working hours. [...]