Leisure Clothing director released from arrest

Leisure Clothing company director Bin Han released from arrest after being questioned over allegations of human trafficking

Bin Han, one of the directors of Chinese owned company Leisure Clothing, was released from arrest by police with no charge after he was questioned over allegations of human trafficking on Wednesday.

The police arrested Han after raiding the factory in Bulebel, where around 260 Chinese workers were said to have been employed in a textlie factory in miserable working conditions, low salaries, and housed in sub-standard quarters in Hal Far.

On Wednesday evening, a crew from MaltaToday was prohibited from filming and asking questions to employees at the factory in the Bulebel industrial estate and were escorted out of the premises by security guards.

However, employees from the company's administration department who spoke to MaltaToday outside the building confirmed that the police had raided the premises in the morning. "None of the directors are here as they are with the police," an employee who wished to remain anonymous told us upon being asked whether we could speak to a director or a member of the management team.

Upon reaching the factory, a number of Asian and Maltese employees could be seen leaving the premises from a side entrance but refused to give any comments. The few employees who spoke to MaltaToday said that production operations continued as normal throughout the day.

Asked whether the Asian employees ever vented their displeasure  at their working conditions, the Maltese employees said, "as far as we know they've always been happy."

Another female employee said that the foreign workers were sometimes taken on short trips to Sicily and showed her displeasure at the way the "good-hearted" directors were being treated by sections of the media.

The ministry for consumer affairs, civil liberties and public dialogue said that the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) had recently filed two separate cases in the criminal court against Leisure Clothing over unpaid salaries totalling €15,000 and €9,000 respectively.

Minister Helena Dalli said that a previous investigation by DIER In 2007, found no irregularities. "Ealier this year, the department investigated cases related to the abuse of workers, finding that there was a breach of the EIRA... the charges were filed months before the media reports, and the department is continuing in its investigations over other working conditions, including those alleged in the press."

The Chinese Embassy in Malta is monitoring the situation closely and keeping an eye on the latest developments concerning the factory which has recently been under the spotlight by a series of reports in the Nationalist Party newspaper In-Nazzjon, which claimed that police investigations over the alleged abuse of workers came to a halt following pressure by government.

The newspaper reported that Chinese workers tried to flee Malta using false passports after being brought to Malta to work in the Chinese government-owned factory.

Allegedly the Chinese nationals tried to exit the country after being smuggled into Malta after being promised a job at the factory and a €600 wage.

However, the four Chinese nationals who were detained by the police after attempting to leave Malta using false documents reportedly told the police that they were only being paid “a few tens of euros” because the company directors feared they would exit Malta and travel to another EU country.

Moreover, they claimed that the company was reducing payments for their visas, accommodation and food from their monthly wage.

Around 260 workers are lodged in huts, close to the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) offices and the AFM barracks in Hal Far. Moreover, the workers also revealed the unhealthy and illegal working conditions.

In-Nazzjon this week claimed that the police investigations, which were at an advanced stage, came to a sudden halt “after the Maltese government succumbed to pressure by third parties” directly involved in the running of the company.

Leisure Clothing Limited started operations in 1987 following an agreement between Malta and the Chongqing regional authorities in China.