Two Lao Banana Workers Denied Their Pay Walk 250 Miles Home

The two men, both 21, began work at a Chinese-owned farm in southern Laos in July, and left after receiving no pay in September.
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Two Lao Banana Workers Denied Their Pay Walk 250 Miles Home Two Lao workers at a Chinese-owned banana farm are shown walking home after missing a month's pay, in a Sept. 2021 photo.

Two Lao workers on a Chinese-owned banana plantation quit their job this month after going weeks without pay and walked to their homes almost 250 miles away, arriving in their village on Wednesday, Lao sources said.

The two men, named Thit and Om and both 21, began work at the farm in Attapeu province in southern Laos in July, but received no pay at all in September, and with no money to pay for other transportation set out on foot for home.

After walking for a week during which they were given food and rides by helpful strangers, the pair arrived safely at their homes in Khammouane province’s Mahaxay district on Wednesday, a district official told RFA’s Lao Service that same day.

“District police are now questioning them about their situation, asking them why their employer didn’t pay them and why they decided to walk home,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Attempts by RFA to reach the two workers and their families for comment were unsuccessful.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, a homeowner in Attapeu’s neighboring Saravan province who helped the two men after seeing them on the road said that they had already been walking for five days when he found them.

“They were walking from a Chinese banana plantation in Attapeu province. Apparently, their employer hadn’t paid them,” the man said, adding that the workers arrived in Nongboua Village in the town of Saravan at around 9:00 p.m. on Sept. 26.

“It was raining and they were hungry and tired, so I decided to let them eat and stay overnight at my house,” he said.

Another resident of the same village gave them some money and a ride to the next town the following day, the villager told RFA.

“They were walking in the morning on Sept. 27 from the house where they spent the night, and they told me they didn’t have any money and wanted to go home to Khammouane province. I tried my best to help them by giving them a ride to the town of Khong Sedon here in Saravan.”

“Then I handed them over to another motorist who was heading to their home province,” he said.

'They quit their jobs'

The two men told him that after starting their work at the plantation in July, they were paid 50,000 kip (U.S. $5) a day, but received no pay at all in September.

“They didn’t know why they weren’t being paid, so they quit their jobs and decided to walk home,” he said.

The men did not know the names of their employer or the company that hired them, or the exact location of the plantation where they had worked, he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a worker at a banana farm in Attapeu’s Sanamxay district said there were three plantations in the district.

“Before these two workers, I once saw another young man walking from a banana plantation in Sanamxay and heading to Saravan. He stopped by and ate lunch with me and told me that he didn’t get paid, either.”

“At my own work place, no one went without pay or walked home like that,” he said.

No permission to travel

A Facebook user who spoke to the two men and took their photo after encountering them on the road said that after walking off their job on Sept. 21, the two workers had tried many times to hitchhike but were refused rides because they hadn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Also, they had no permission to travel from the local or provincial COVID-19 special task force or from any other authorities,” he said.

A villager who had given the men some money and food had called their parents but was told they couldn’t come to get them because of the strict lockdowns in place in their area, so the man helping them had just given them some water and food and let them continue to walk, he said.

“Why didn’t the authorities step in and help them get vaccinated and then send them home?” he asked.

Attempts to reach the Sanamxay district Labor and Social Welfare Department for comment were unsuccessful, though an official of the district’s Agriculture and Forestry Department told RFA his office was unsure which plantation was not paying its workers but would look into the matter.

In May, dozens of Lao laborers working for a Chinese banana plantation in Bokeo province’s Houeyxay district also went unpaid after their employer returned to China during the COVID-19 pandemic and failed to return.

And in September, more than a hundred workers on the Lao-China High-Speed Railway were left without money for rent or food when their Chinese subcontractors on the project refused to pay them for their work, finally giving some their pay when a Lao foreman cut off power to the work site.

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


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