Criminals prey on industrial park workers

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With paltry incomes hardly enough to scrape by on, poor and desperate workers are being brutalized by thieves, loan sharks, swindlers and other criminals

Factory workers change shifts at an industrial park in Vietnam. Many workers at industrial parks in Binh Duong Province's Ben Cat District have fallen victims to a variety of crimes meant to extort their hard-earned money, which is often already too little to pay for decent housing and healthy meals.

Trieu had received his first month's salary at a wood factory in Binh Duong Province, which neighbors Ho Chi Minh City, only a few minutes before his meager US$100 began to look like a lot less.

Immediately after stepping outside Grand Art Wood Processing Factory at the My Phuoc 1 Industrial Park, four thugs arrived on two motorbikes and began beating Trieu nearly senseless. They then demanded VND200,000 ($9.6) in "protection" fees.

"They threatened to cut my finger off if I refused to pay the money," he said. "Before leaving, they said that if I paid them monthly I'd be able to work safely at the factory."

Like Trieu, many workers at industrial parks in the southeastern province have fallen victim to a variety of crimes meant to extort their hard-earned money, which is often already too little to pay for decent housing and healthy meals.

In some cases, workers have had to quit their jobs after their company became the target of local gangs.

The leader of a company at the My Phuoc 3 Industrial Park who wished to remain anonymous said his firm had complained to police in Binh Duong Province after being threatened by Chau, a local gangster.

After being dismissed from the company for breaching work regulations, Chau announced that he would attack any other worker still working for the company. He called the company's director and demanded that the firm pay him protection fees of between VND50,000 and VND1.5 million per person. He also began attacking other workers violently.

A company worker admitted that he quit after seeing Chau beating other workers. "No one wanted to quit but many workers were afraid of him," he said, adding that he didn't have enough money to buy milk for his young child or food for his family while looking for a new job.

Criminals have also targeted security companies and food caterers supplying services to companies at several industrial parks in Binh Duong's Ben Cat District.

Their ploy is forcing production companies to sign contracts with service providers under their "protection."

The owner of a food caterer in Ben Cat said she lost a contract to supply meals for a 2,000-worker company recently because she refused to pay gangsters a protection fee of VND5 million per month.

"After refusing, the gangsters forced the company's workers to strike and complain about low quality meals," she told Thanh Nien.

Meanwhile, security companies said the criminals often take revenge on company leaders for exposing their crimes.

"Many of our guards have been threatened by thugs after being assigned to local companies," said the director of a security company in Ben Cat District.

On September 14, a guard at a company in My Phuoc discovered a worker stealing company's products and the worker was dismissed on the same day. However, the guard was attacked by a group of men later that day and suffered serious injuries.

Unsafety first

While facing the threat of extortion by gangland thuggery, many Ben Cat industrial park workers have also been targeted by a variety of robbers and swindlers.

According to a report by police in Ben Cat District's Thoi Hoa Commune, there were 110 cases of crime over the first six months of this year, 67 cases more than over the same period last year, of which 45 were cases of robbery and swindling.

The communal police said the figures do not reflect the situation fully because many victims don't report crimes to police.

"The commune has a very complicated security situation because workers come from everywhere and criminals have easily hidden themselves amid the law-abiding population," said Nguyen Minh Chau of Thoi Hoa Commune Police.

On September 1, Hy Cong Sau, a worker at My Phuoc 3 Industrial Park, lost his motorbike as it was parked right in front of his rented room. Several days later, Nguyen Thi Thuy of Yaki Company lost her motorbike while it was parked in front of a grocery store.

Many workers have reported being robbed on the street.

On June 18, four robbers stopped Nguyen Thanh Nguyen on National Highway 13 and robbed his cell phone. It was worth more than VND2 million, equal to his monthly salary.

A worker at Ben Cat District said it was easy to buy stolen motorbikes for cheap around local industrial parks. He said he has connection with motorbike robbers and can help workers buy stolen motorbikes with registration cards.

Meanwhile, many workers have reported becoming the victims of loan sharks and swindlers. Many swindlers have disguised themselves as company employees and even launched fake lucky-draw games to trick workers.

A Thanh Nien reporter masquerading as a worker at a company in My Phuoc 1 Industrial Park also found that many workers are involved in so de. So de is an illegal numbers game based on the state lottery, allowing players to bet any amount they want for payoffs up to 80 times the original wager.

Some criminals have obtained jobs at industrial parks only to use the legitimate employment as a front for their gambling services. They are ready to lend workers money to play so de, and always lend at cripplingly-high interest rates.

The manager of a company at My Phuoc, who wished to be identified only as C., said he had saved enough money to buy a house for his wife and children in Ben Cat District and had worked his way through the ranks at the company to become a manager.

However, he had to sell his house recently to cover debts on loans from loan sharks that he had borrowed to play so de.

C.'s family is now living at a small and unhygienic room for rent which is common for workers in industrial parks throughout the country.

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