Limit on how much water Chinese firm’s employees could drink

Vietnamese worker says Leisure Clothing workers had limit on water intake, toilet paper, and forced to work whenever she was sick.

A Vietnamese Leisure Clothing employee told a court today of the “miserable” working conditions at the garment company, claiming that workers had a limit on how much water they could drink and were only given two rolls of toilet paper for the entire month.

Van Hoang Thi Cam explained that she arrived in Malta in November 2013 together with another three Vietnamese workers.

The Vietnamese worker was summoned to testify in the compilation of evidence against Leisure Clothing directors Bin Han, 46, and Jia Liu, 31, of Birzebbugia. The two directors are pleading not guilty to trafficking and exploiting Chinese and Vietnamese workers, to misappropriating their wages, and to failing to pay wages.

Describing the “miserable” working conditions at the Bulebel garment company, Van Hoang Thi Cam told the court that she was living in constant fear and that company officials threatened to deport her if she reported the conditions to the police.

Speaking through a translator, Van said she was allowed to drink 24 litres of water per month in winter and 36 litres in summer. Whenever she was sick, workers were not allowed to go home but were instead given two pills and ordered to continue working, she said.

Van told the court that she received €150 in pocket money every two months, while the rest of her €600 salary owed to her was being kept by the company. Vietnamese worker explained that she could not ask for her wages, because company policy dictated that wages can only be issued when they reach the €2000 mark.

Moreover, she said that the food were fed was “inedible,” and used to give her the runs. She said she worked between 7am and 9.30pm with one day off every two weeks and between 8am and 6.30pm on Sundays. As of April, she started getting two days off every week.

The woman also said that she shared a room with four other employees.

She said that she and other workers had complained to their employers about the conditions, but their requests fell on deaf ears. The woman also argued that upon setting foot in Malta, her passport was taken away from her.

Coupled with her “miserable” working conditions, the woman explained that her below-par living quarters and amenities were the straw that broke the camel’s back and the reasons to her “despair.”

She said that as a result of her unhappiness, she quit her job, and ran away with fake documents before being apprehended by police. While in police custody, she told the police about the “miserable life she was enduring as a Leisure Clothing employee.”

Cross-examined by the defence, she said that if her family called her during working hours, this time would be deducted from her salary.

Meanwhile, a court-appointed accountant testified said that even though the company allegedly owed €534,000 in salaries, the company only had €70,000 available. It also had used up its €280,000 overdraft facility.

Presenting the finds of an HR audit, Marsa Ciappara, a court-appointed expert, said that the company’s present financial situation made it unable to honour its financial obligations.

The accountant also said that the company’s files and documents were disorganised and she was still at odds where €115,000 due in salaries had gone.

Presiding Magistrate Carol Peralta ordered that more time is needed for the first phase of the compilation of evidence to be completed, noting that very little evidence produced so far by the prosecution substantiated the human trafficking charge. 

Police Inspectors Sylvana Briffa and Joseph Busuttil led the prosecution, while Lawyer Pio Valletta appeared for the accused.

The case continues on December 30.