Atrocious labour camps in Serbia

The accommodation for the Chinese workers, engaged in the construction of the Linglong tyre factory in Zrenjanin, which photos appeared in the media two days ago, show atrocious conditions that these people live and sleep in.

Unfortunately, this is not the only company in Serbia whose workers live and work in inhumane conditions; similar stories can be heard at the South Korean Yura, Zijin in Bor, Geox in Vranje and Benetton in Niš.

Linglong in Zrenjanin.

Judging by the photos, Chinese workers engaged in the construction of the Linglong tyre factory in Zrenjanin are housed in concrete rooms with a dozen metal bunk beds. Pieces of green nylon and individual pieces of clothing are used as improvised “dividers” between the beds, providing a minimum of privacy.

With the exception of a table and some broken chairs, there is no other furniture in the room where the workers spend most of their free time. Clothes are hung on the beds around which one can see numerous plastic basins and buckets. In addition, most of the rooms do not have toilets and bathrooms.

Dušan Kokot, from the Gradjanski Preokret organization, that workers’ accommodation in Zrenjanin resembles “forced labour camps”.

“Based on the photo documentation that has been made public, it is quite clear that the living conditions are inhumane,” Kokot told Radio Free Europe, noting that neither local nor state authorities have responded to their appeals to examine the living conditions of these workers.

Zijin in Bor

Due to the subhuman conditions that Chinese workers in Serbia live in, a protest broke out in mid-January in the Čukaru Peki mine, managed by the Zijin Company in Bor.

According to recordings later submitted to Radio Free Europe, the workers were seeking an improvement in living conditions. They claimed that they were living as prisoners and were not allowed to leave the labour camp or have contact with the rest of the population.

The workers here have only one toilet per 80 people, infrequent access to hot water and more than 50 workers have only four shower cubicles at their disposal.

Zijin has refused to answer journalists’ questions about the living conditions of their workers in Bor, and in a later accused them of lying and protesting “because they want to take the vaccine to travel to China to celebrate the Chinese New Year in February.”

South Korean company Yura

The South Korean car cable manufacturer, Yura, which has three production plants in three Serbian cities with a total of 6,500 workers, has been frequently accused of mobbing, humiliating and exhibiting cruelty to employees, as well as for obstructing the work of trade unions and failure to comply with safety measures during the epidemic.

Thus, in October last year, the local government’s Crisis Unit in Niš claimed that the Yura factory had been affected by the pandemic and asked the state for help, as the number of infected workers reached 60% of the total number of COVID-patients in the city.

Allegations about poor working conditions at the factory had been circulating since 2016 when a strike erupted at the Yura factory in Leskovac, during which the trade unions had discovered that workers were not only not allowed to have one day off a week, which they were entitled to by law, but were subjected to physical and mental abuse to which no one reacted.

“They were beaten with metal batons, and women were sexually assaulted, although there was no rape. They were not allowed to go to the bathroom and advised to wear nappies. When someone falls ill, the ambulance is called to the factory, and if the worker is not taken to the hospital, they have to immediately return to work after receiving medical help”, the president of the Sloga trade union, Željko Veselinović, claimed at the time.

Geox in Vranje

In November last year, 300 workers in the first shift stopped production at the Geox shoe factory in Vranje because of unpaid overtime, extended working hours and delayed disbursement of sick leave allowance.

Recent events show that, even after five years since it was reported that the employees of this factory had been working in inhumane conditions and suffered torture, the Italian investor has still not created normal working conditions.

Gordana Krstić (50 years old), a former employee of the Geox factory, told five years ago how employees were subjected to torture.

“The workers are living in constant fear. They are only allowed to go to the bathroom twice and are not allowed to complain or ask questions. They have to keep quiet, are often insulted by being called ‘gipsies’ and are constantly threatened with dismissal,” Ms Krstić says.

She added that when one of the managers, Tiziana Cesoni, had noticed that someone had gone to the toilet more than twice a day, she told the workers to wear nappies, showing them how to put them on. Going to work became a nightmare for Ms Krstić, which is why she had to quit.

Benetton in Niš

In late April last year, about 600 people were laid off in five days in the Niš companies Tehnostiro, Nora Serbia and Tessil, three subcontractors of Olimpias, a factory that produces textile items for the Benetton Group.

“We worked during the pandemic. Now, when a number of workers have returned to work, we have been told that we are laid off. Instead of a reward and a salary, we are fired,” Slavica Petrović, a worker at the Tessil Group factory, told Radio Free Europe at the time.

This is yet another factory in Serbia that has a reputation for banning workers from going to the bathroom. In July 2017, workers from the Olimpias factory had said that their working conditions were very poor and that they were only allowed to go to the bathroom during the break.

(Nova, 02.04.2021)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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