Up to 30 Lao laborers working on a nearly completed railway project that will connect landlocked Laos with China say that they have not been paid in three to four months, because their Chinese employers left the area and went home early this year amid the spread of the coronavirus.
Workers, especially heavy truck drivers, in Na Mo district of northwestern Laos’ Oudomxay province told RFA on Monday that their Chinese bosses have not given them a reason for the salary delays or informed them when they will be paid.
“There are about 20 to 30 workers who have not been paid,” said one Lao laborer who declined to give his name out of fear that he might lose his job. “The Chinese employers who were working on the project when the disease outbreak occurred went back home without paying the workers.”
“They only told them to continue working,” he added.
A Lao truck driver who is among the workers who have not received their salaries said he did not know when he would receive payment.
“Late — about three to four months,” said the driver, who declined to give his name for fear he would lose his job.
“Many workers are being paid late,” he said. “We don’t know when will get it, but we’re still working as truck drivers as usual.”
Workers are concerned about the delayed compensation because they do not have enough money now to buy food, pay their rent, or purchase essential items for their families, the truck driver said.
Though some workers want to quit their jobs, they are putting up with the situation because they have nowhere else to turn for employment, he said.
The truck driver said he did not know if Chinese employees working on the project in the area had received their salaries.
RFA was unable to reach the Vientiane office of Lao Railways — the national rail authority — or Na Mor district’s labor office for comment.
Other Lao nationals working inside the country on the railway project also have reported not being paid their salaries by their Chinese employers.
On April 1, a group of ethnic Hmong workers asked their Chinese supervisor for their salaries and took a company truck as collateral after an argument broke out.
Laos largely has been spared from the effects of the coronavirus, reporting only 19 cases since March 24, but no related fatalities.
A government order limiting the number of workers and requiring nonessential workers to remain at home to prevent the spread of the pathogen has led to the shutdown of some industries.
The construction sector, however, has been allowed to continue operating, although with fewer laborers on hand.
The Lao-China railway project — now 90 percent complete — is being touted as a boon for the impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people because it is expected to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development.
The estimated U.S. $6 billion project, whose construction began in December 2016, is part of a longer rail line that will link China to mainland Southeast Asia under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service, Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.