Lao Workers Are Paid Back Wages at Chinese-Owned Cement Plant, Ending Dispute

2021-05-03
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Lao Workers Are Paid Back Wages at Chinese-Owned Cement Plant, Ending Dispute The former Guestown-Lao Co. cement works, now owned by the Jian Qe Co. Ltd., is shown in Luang Prabang province, Laos, in an undated photo.
Photo provided by citizen journalist

Lao workers at a Chinese-owned cement works have finally been paid back wages owed by the plant’s former owners since November, ending a long-running dispute, Lao sources say.

All 170 employees owed money by the Guestown-Lao company plant in Luang Prabang province’s Nam Bak district have now received pay totaling 400 million kip (U.S. $42,000) from the plant’s new owner, an official of the province’s Labor and Social Department told RFA.

“Yes, they have all been paid,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Some of them were paid for 10 days of work, and some were paid for 20 days of work.”

“The mediation committee, which included a representative of the district labor department, reached a resolution to the dispute last month, and all parties agreed to it and signed the memo,” he said.

Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service at the end of April, former employees of the Guestown-Lao plant—some of whom have already returned to work at the plant under new management—expressed satisfaction with the dispute's resolution.

“[The new owners] have already paid us what we were owed. They transferred the money directly into our bank accounts,” said the worker, who is now employed as a security guard at the newly managed plant. “Some of us have now returned to work,” he added.

Another worker, who went back to work in February after the plant was taken over by new owners the Jiang Qe Co. Ltd., confirmed he had also received his pay.

“Yes, we’ve received our salary now for the month of November last year. We’ve been paid for all the hours and days that we worked during that month, and I’m happy now,” he said.

Provincial authorities in April detained the Chinese owner of the Guestown-Lao company cement plant, accusing him of failing to pay November’s wages to his Lao workers, later filing criminal charges against him. He is now awaiting trial on the charges, official sources said.

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

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.

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

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