Chinese Employer Detained in Laos for Not Paying Workers

2021-04-02
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Chinese Employer Detained in Laos for Not Paying Workers Lao cement-plant workers demand back pay in a protest outside the home of their former Chinese employer, Feb. 22, 2021.
Photo provided by workers

Lao authorities in Luang Prabang province have detained the Chinese owner of a cement plant, accusing him of failing to pay a month’s wages to his Lao workers last year, Lao sources say.

Prosecutors are now filing charges against the man, the owner of the Guestown-Lao company, whose plant in the province’s Nam Bak district was closed in late November, a labor official in Luang Prabang told RFA on Thursday.

“The owner of the plant is a Chinese, who has now been detained,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The authorities are filing charges against him, and he will be brought to court soon,” he said.

“The workers will now have to wait for a court decision to see if they will be paid,” he added.

The shuttered Guestown-Lao company plant, which has now reopened under new owners, owes about 400 million kip (U.S. $42,500) in back pay to more than 200 employees, only some of whom have been rehired by the plant’s new managers.

“The same plant with a new Chinese owner and a new company called Jiang Qe Co. called me and several others back to work, and we have been working here again since late February, one worker said.

“The new owner told us that this is a different company that has nothing to do with the previous one, so we are still going to have to wait for our unpaid wages,” he said.

Not the first time

Another worker said he remains unemployed, but can’t travel far from his home to find a new job.

“My family is poor, and I can’t go to another town or province to work because I’m still waiting for my back pay,” he said, adding, “We haven’t heard anything from the authorities up till now.”

“This was not the first time that the company didn’t pay us,” a third worker said, also speaking to RFA. “The plant paid us late several times before, and they only paid then because we protested.”

Around 100 of the cement plant’s more than 200 unpaid workers gathered on Feb. 22 outside the home of the plant’s Chinese owner to demand their wages, sources told RFA in an earlier report, with one worker saying the owner had fled his home before they arrived.

“We came here several times in December and January to ask for our back pay, but nothing happened. Then, in early February, we filed a written complaint with the district and provincial labor departments and with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare,” the worker said.

“We waited for almost a month, and nothing happened, so we came here to protest on Feb. 22,” he said.

Abuse, resentment

Reports have increased in recent years of the high-handed treatment of Lao workers by their Chinese bosses, and of increasing resentment over a rapidly growing Chinese business presence in the country.

A Lao teenager working at a motorcycle shop in Bokeo province killed his Chinese employer in early March following a heated argument over working hours and the man’s abuse of his local employees, while in June 2020 a young Lao worker was beaten, shocked, and tied up by his supervisors at a Chinese banana plantation in Vientiane province.

Concern has also been growing in Laos over China’s growing influence as a result of its massive investment in hydropower dams, a major railway, and other infrastructure projects under Beijing’s $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative.

China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner after Thailand.

Lao authorities announced on Thursday that China had donated 800,000 doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine to its communist neighbor.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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