How the inaction of the competent authorities in regard to the recently discovered difficult situation of foreign workers engaged in the construction of the ‘Linglong’ factory in Zrenjanin reflects the state of the rule of law in Serbia and whether there are elements of trafficking in human beings, read concisely in the new prEUgovor Brief Alert.
Vietnamese workers have been hired to build the ‘Linglong’ factory in Zrenjanin, and they are in an extremely difficult position. They live in conditions unworthy of human beings, while the employment contracts they concluded in Serbia are unlawful in many different ways and aimed to exploit them for cheap labour.
From the overall context and the established facts, it is clear that the workers were brought to Serbia as unprotected labour force. The circumstances of their entry into the country, and their residence and work permits (if they have them at all), are not known.
After the media reports and testimonies of some of the workers, the Chinese company issued a reaction statement. The competent Serbian authorities, however, failed to react to the allegations of civil society organisations about the existence of indicators that the crime of human trafficking is involved in this case. It is clear that the overriding goal of the state’s (in)activity is to relativise the circumstances of the case and move them into the sphere of political conflict, which leads to the conclusion that the state has no capacities to respond properly to this crime, and that the principle of the rule of law is effectively subordinated to political decisions.
- Allow the Centre for the Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings to prepare an expert assessment of whether these workers are in fact victims of human trafficking;
- Examine all the circumstances of employment (especially the existence of work and residence permits) and work of the Vietnamese workers; the labour inspectorate should order the employer to eliminate any irregularities in the workers’ engagement and the contracting of working conditions;
- Make it possible for workers to return to their home country if they wish to do so. If they want to stay in Serbia until the expiry of the contract, provide them with conditions needed for dignified life and housing;
- Take appropriate action against those responsible, in accordance with the established facts and circumstances of the case. For example, if workers were indeed issued work permits, prosecute the person who had issued these permits despite the fact that the contracts submitted by the employer were clearly unlawful;
- Prosecute all responsible persons if it turns out that there are elements of the crime of trafficking in human beings, primarily responsible persons with the employer (contractor).
- Enable effective mechanisms to prevent similar situations in the future, especially in light of the fact that this is not the first time that foreign workers have been exposed to unlawful treatment in the Republic of Serbia.
This analysis was prepared by prEUgovor member organisation ASTRA - Anti-Trafficking Action in colaboration with Mario Reljanović, PhD.
This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union, as part of the project “PrEUgovor Policy Watch: building alliances for stronger impact in uncertain future”. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the prEUgovor coalition and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.