Shady Libyan construction firms and crooked labor brokers are allegedly exploiting Vietnamese workers!
Vietnamese workers at a construction site in Tarhoona, Libya. Hundreds of Vietnamese guest workers in the Northern African nation say they are working under harsh conditions for pay that often comes in low and late.
Every day, Dai, a 26-year- old Vietnamese construction worker, wakes up and works 11 hours under the hot Libyan sun.
For the past four months, Dai has endured sandstorms and siroccos the notoriously hot and dusty winds blowing out of the Sahara desert. What keeps him working is the hope that he will provide a better life for his relatives back home in the northern province of Ninh Binh.
But, here in Libya, there are no guarantees that his hard work will pay off.
Dai and hundreds of Vietnamese workers in the Northern African nation are working under harsh conditions for pay that often comes late. When pay does arrive, workers said, it is lower than the contracted amount. There is no compensation for overtime.
Before arriving in Libya, some of the poor rural men said they had been fleeced by fake labor brokers in Vietnam. Others say they had bribed employees at "legitimate" personnel firms in order to secure positions with "good" companies abroad.
Long road to Libya
Can Van Chien, a 24-year-old carpenter from Hanoi, said he had faced a number of difficulties before being sent to work at a residential construction site in Souq Al Ahad, some 80 kilometers to the south-east of Tripoli.
In 2006, he said, a man posing as a labor broker took him for VND10 million. Chien had been promised a job in the Czech Republic. A year later, he failed to qualify for a mechanic's position in Egypt with the Vinaconex Company. Chien says that Vinaconex collected application fees from Chien and promised to send him to Algeria to work. After five months of waiting, he was told that his contract in Algeria had been canceled. But there was work in Libya.
Like many other workers, Chien had to take out bank loans to cover broker fees and his plane ticket. Interest on the loans continued to accrue during the months that he waited for his assignment to come through.
Khuong, a construction worker in Souq Al Ahad, said he and seven other workers were sent to Libya last year by Vinaconex after bribing a company representative in Libya VND2 million each. Khuong said he and the others were told that the man could arrange them to work for a Turkish company in Libya that was supposed to be better than others.
After overcoming all odds, the workers have complained that their payment has come in low and late.
In October 2009, late payment prompted 500 Vietnamese workers (80 percent of the STFA Construction Company workforce) to strike for three days. The workers complained that the company had delayed the transfer of funds to their accounts for five consecutive months. They claimed to have lost between US$10 and $100 per transaction.
In another case, 91 Vietnamese employees at the Ahua Company said they had signed contracts to work eight hours a day for $260 a month. They claimed to have been paid just $240 a month in Lybian dinar.
"For four months we worked an extra three hours a day and weren't paid for it," a worker said.
At the Hadsa construction site, owned by South-Korean Halin Company, 27 Vietnamese workers reported a similar story.
Bang, a 37-year-old worker from the northern mountainous Son La Province, said he and his co-workers signed contracts for $260 a month but the company only paid 260 Lybian dinar, equaling only $208. What's more, Libya took a 20 percent tax bite out of their checks.
For workers from the tropical Vietnam, Libya's desert-like climate proved to be an unforgiving working environment.
The 41-year-old carpenter Minh prepares for his daily work by covering himself tightly, from head to toe, in ninja-like garb. "Everyone dresses like this," he says. "You will know why when going out. The construction site is just like a pan of boiling fat. Any uncovered body part will be immediately badly burnt by the sun."
The construction site is surrounded on all sides by endless sand dunes. Without a tree in sight, the whole place heats up quickly under the scorching sun.
Minh said that 300 workers from his village, Huong Ngai in Hanoi's Thach That District, were sent to work as plumbers in Libya. Nearly half of them developed respiratory diseases soon after arriving due to the dusty working conditions, he said.
Khoai, a 39-year-old construction worker, said he spent his days painting a layer of mazut oil onto formwork to prevent them from sticking to plaster. "The smell of oil in the unbearable heat has made my nose bleed," he said. "Some pass out due to sunstroke."
Quyen, a Vietnamese plumber who has been working in Libya since early this year, said he accepted the gig despite regular underpayment in order to support his family.
"I hope my daughter will pass the university entrance exam this month so she won't have to work hard like her parents," he said.