Last week, five workers from Henan (Zhang Zhenjie, Wei Pengjie, Guo Peiyang, Tian Mingxin, Zhang Qiang) were arrested at the Malaysian coastline. The investigation found that they departed from Indonesia and planned to return to China via an overland route from Malaysia.
In early September, these five workers published a letter requesting assistance to give an account of their experience of being deceived at Delong Industrial Park. In the industrial park, the workers found the working conditions did not match the conditions in the contract promised by their employer. The workers were not given the opportunity to sign any formal employment contract; they could not leave the industrial park guarded by armed security; their passports were confiscated by their employers. Therefore, The workers decided to resign. Initially, a supervisor at Rongcheng Environmental Protection Engineering sought to extort 75000 yuan from the workers as a condition to return to China. Subsequently, supervisor B convinced these five workers to pay him 50000 yuan in exchange for his assistance in helping the workers to return to China. However, The workers demanded a refund since supervisor B did not comply with his promise to arrange their return, but the latter refused their request and even demanded them to sign a disclaimer. After the workers published the letter requesting for assistance, the Chinese embassy demanded Rongcheng Environmental Protection Engineering and Delong Industrial Park to return the workers’ passports and requested supervisor B to return the extorted 50000 yuan. However, without turning back to their passports, the workers decided to rush into the risk of following two weeks of stalemate, ultimately resulting in such a tragedy.
Withholding passports by employers does not only take place in these five workers. Based on the statement of more than one hundred workers in Delong Industrial Park received by China Labor Watch, most workers’ passports were taken away at the moment when they arrived in Indonesia. Passport is a worker’s identity document when working abroad; the withholding of passports means that employers are in total control of workers’ daily activities. The International Labor Organization classifies the withholding of passports as an indicator of forced labor.
Project companies cooperate with outsourcing companies to send workers to Indonesia; in other instances, workers come to Indonesia after being deceived by shell corporations’ verbal promises without signing any formal employment contract. These intermediaries attract workers to travel to Indonesia through fraudulent processes of recruitment. However, many workers have just realized the imperformance of the promise after their arrival at the industrial park: the withholding of passports, forced labor with illegal visa , restricting the freedom of movement, unjust imparity clauses, working overtime, lack of holidays, pay in arrears, social isolation from local communities, high penalty for breach of employment contract, lack of medial service when injured or sick, bad working and living conditions, insufficient labor protection and safety equipment, unfair appeal institutions for protecting rights, and the constant threat of intimidating and physical violence due to protest. All the actions above from companies violate both China’s Labor Law and the International Human Rights Law.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, workers living in groups are particularly more vulnerable. Many of them have to engage in production activities without sufficient protection. In the investigation from China Labor Watch, we have found out many workers are infected from COVID-19 in the factories and dormitories. What’s worse, many workers are indefinitely postponed to return to China due to rapidly rising costs of tickets and strict testing requirements. All workers have to get NAT and serodiagnosis testing in the industrial park; only those who pass both tests with a low IgM and IgG reading are permitted to travel to Jakarta. Once in Jakarta, workers must self-quarantine in hotel rooms and undergo a series of additional testing; only those who pass those tests are permitted to get the final 48-hours pre-departure testing from airlines. Although NAT results are negative for many workers, they are still told to remain in hotels or being sent back to the industrial park since they are still tested positive for antibodies or have an IgM/IgG value higher than the company’s standard. As a result, some workers fall into depression in a hopeless confined environment and may start viewing suicide as their only way out; for some workers, they become permanent disability since they are restricted to the freedom of movement and lack of access to medical assistance after they are injured from work.
At the same time, project companies are using China’s strict quarantine measures of life management as an excuse to intensify forced labor. With the high cost of living and Covid-testing, the workers have no choice but continue working in hazardous environments when they are unable to return home and leave the industrial park.
China Labor Watch believes that the Chinese government has an inevitable obligation to defend Chinese workers’ rights and interests. It is inhumane and unacceptable to ignore the conditions of withholding passports and restricting workers’ freedom from returning home. We call on the Chinese government to supervise companies’ legal obligations, demand them to return passports and workers’ wages, and penalize those who exploit the workers’ rights.
We are urgently calling the Chinese government to protect Chinese workers who are stranded abroad. It is urgent for the Chinese government to increase flights in those countries which encompass a large number of Chinese workers population, provide chartered flights for Chinese workers, provide medical, psychological and legal assistance to victims immediately, and establish victim-centered, preventive and protective compensation mechanisms.
Timeline of the Five Workers Escaping from Indonesia
The workers were introduced by an agent to construction work at the Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. Delong Industrial Park in Kendari, Sulawesi, Indonesia. The agent promised the following: they would work 9 hours per day, 27 days per month, rain or shine, and they would be paid 500 yuan (RMB) for each working day. Each month, they would receive 10,000 yuan. For rest days and quarantine days they would receive a 200 yuan subsidy each day. After 6 months of work, they would receive all the wages before going back to China. The agent also promised that the workers’ flight tickets to Indonesia and back to China would be covered.
The workers arrived in Indonesia. Their passports were taken and held by the company.
Apr. 4 The workers arrived at Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co., Ltd. industrial park in Morowali, Sulawesi
Apr.4 – Apr. 11:The workers did part-time work in rotation due to the lack of tools.. They were promised a subsidy of 200 yuan per day.
Apr. 15: The workers started to work regularly. However, the minimum working hour increased from 9 hours to 9.5 hours a day. No break was allowed during work time. The nearest hospital is four hours away by car, making work injury treatment difficult. The industrial park is guarded by armed security guards and the workers cannot leave the park without permission. They asked the company several times that they wish to sign the labor contract, but were continuously told that the company didn’t have a printer. Their company is Rongcheng Environmental Protection Engineering Co., a contracting company in cooperation with Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. .
Jun. 7: The five workers’ families contacted the Chinese Embassy, asked the government to assist the workers to leave the worksite and return home. The Embassy intervened.
Jun. 10: The workers’ boss at Rongcheng Environmental Protection Engineering (Boss No. 1) held a meeting. For the first time, the workers received a copy of their employment contract. They were told that they might not be able to go back to China in the next six months, and the workers were required to work whenever the company needed them. The five workers refused to sign the contract.
Jun. 11: The five workers told their boss their decision to quit the job.
Jun. 12: Boss No.1 and his boss (Boss XL) learned that the family members of these workers contacted the Embassy and were unhappy with the letter they received from the Embassy. Later, Boss No.1 asked for 75,000 yuan from each worker in exchange for his permission to let them go home. He asked them to take Covid-19 tests on June 28 (to meet China’s test requirement for overseas travellers to fly to China).
Jun. 28: The Covid-19 tests at the worksite were canceled.
Jun. 29:The immigration officers visited the workers to renew their visa, this was the last time that the workers saw their passports.
Jun. 28- Jul. 5: Rest days. The company did not assign any work.
Jul. 6: The workers met Boss No. 2 from another contracting company (As of right now we do not have information on this company). Boss No.2 told them that he would only charge 50,000 yuan from each worker in return for his assistance in arranging the workers’ return to China, and persuaded them to transfer from the GNI nickel smelting project, where they had been working, to a different construction site, where an integrated stainless steel smelting project is located. Both sites are owned by Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry. The workers believed him and traveled at night to the new construction site without getting back their passports from Boss No.1. They were stranded at that site because their IgG and IgM values exceeded the limit and they were asked to go into recurring quarantine; Boss No.2 told the workers that they would only be permitted to leave if their test results met the minimum requirement (IgG<0.7 IgM<0.2). The workers asked for their money back but Boss No.2 was only willing to return 10,000 yuan to each worker. The remaining 40,000 yuan he kept were not to be used to purchase flight tickets for the workers. Boss No.2 also demanded each worker to sign a disclaimer to prevent the workers from holding the company accountable, otherwise they would not be allowed to go or be able to receive the passport and the 10,000 yuan refund.
Sep. 2: A letter written on behalf of these five workers was published by Wechat user “Zai Yin Ni” (In Indonesia). The letter pleaded for help from the Embassy and the public, and hoped the government could urge the company to return their money and passports.
Sep. 3: The Chinese Embassy intervened and the five workers received a refund of 238,000 yuan in total.
A manager from Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. asked the subcontractor to return the passports. He also invited the workers to work at another site.
The workers were determined to go home. But since they had not completed the working period, they were asked to pay 13,000 yuan, the ticket cost of the flight from China to Jakarta. They agreed.
The workers called Boss No.1, asked him to return all the wages and subsidies they were owed. Boss No.1 was unhappy at the impact of the letter and said the company would punish them and deduct fines from their wages.
The workers waited for the passports.
Sep.7: Someone who claimed to be a staff worker from the Chinese Embassy called the workers, told them that the Embassy had authorized their employer to withhold their passports; to get the passports back, the workers must deal directly with their employer.
Sep.11: The workers called the Embassy, hoping the Embassy could urge their company to return the passports.
Sep.12: In a Wechat group chat, a manager from Jiangsu Delong asked a secretary to return the passports to the workers.
Sep.13: The workers escaped from the industrial park in Kendari and arrived in Jakarta.
Sep. 14: Boss No.1 told the workers that their passports would be mailed to Jakarta.
Sep. 18: The workers contacted their company to inquire about the status of their passports but did not receive a reply.
Sep.19: One of the workers sent his wife a screenshot of a GPS location on Google Maps before losing contact. It was a location on the coast of Malaysia. Meanwhile, a report was released by the Malaysian Armed Forces (Markas Divisyen Ketiga Infantri Malaysia): five Chinese nationals illegally entered Malaysia from Indonesia were arrested, among others. Currently they have been transferred to Jabatan Imigresen Setia Tropika.
Information on the Involved Companies:
Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co., Ltd.
Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. Ltd is a private enterprise that specializes in nickel alloy (stainless steel) smelting. It is headquartered in the Xiangshui Coastal Economic Development Zone, in Chenjiagang, Yancheng. Established in August 2010, Delong Nickel Industry currently has approximately 6,000 employees. Delong Nickel Industry specializes in the production and sale of nickel alloy (stainless steel).
The Delong Industrial Park, located in Kendari, Sulawesi, Indonesia is the first overseas nickel alloy and stainless steel industrial park operated by Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. Ltd and China First Heavy Industries. The industrial park has a land area of 2200 hectares. The first-phase project includes the construction of a nickel smelting line capable of processing 600,000 tons of nickel per year. Three main components of the projects include a smelting factory, power station and pier, with a total investment value of $1 billion. The construction started in 2015 and the first production line became operational in 2017.
Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. Ltd is distinct from Delong Steel Ltd (parent company is Delong Holdings Limited). On the list of Top 500 Chinese Private Enterprises, Delong Steel Limited ranks 58th and Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. Ltd ranks 101st.
Both companies have ongoing investment programs in Indonesia –
Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co. Ltd.’s programs are:
- Delong Industrial Park’s first-phase smelting project (VDMI), the project’s 3 components are: smelting factory, power station and pier (joint venture partner: China First Heavy Industries)
- Second-phase stainless-steel smelting project (OSS) (Joint venture partner: Xiamen Xiangyu Group)
- Third-phase GNI nickel smelting project
Rongcheng Environmental Protection Engineering Co.
Address: Dasheng Village, Heqiao Town, Yixing City, Jiangsu Province, 214211 P.R. China
Legal Representative: Zhang Guocai