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Code fuzzy on forced labour

Update: September, 25/2015 - 09:10
Teenagers work at a brick kiln in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang. They are among forced labour victims, who are badly treated and even tortured during their work. — Photo baoangiang.com.vn

HA NOI (VNS) — Lured by high-paying jobs, many workers have been tricked into modern-day servitude. Some are even detained against their will, badly treated and, sometimes, even tortured. However, the country's Penal Code has nothing to say about the issue of forced labour.

Nguyen Van, 28, from central Thanh Hoa Province, recalled his horror after being tricked into working at a forced labour camp deep into the forest and far from civilisation.

"I was promised a high-paying and stable job as a carpenter there. After we arrived, the camp's overseer paid the broker guy VND600,000 (US$27), which was later deducted from my salary," Van said.

He said workers at the camp had to work from 5am to 6pm every day. Since they were forced to buy their own meals at a camp located in the middle of nowhere, their salary was almost nothing.

The worst part was at the end of the day they locked us up in a shed, which was equipped with surveillance cameras and isolated in the middle of a big lake, he said.

"Many of us couldn't take it anymore. Some tried to escape by swimming across the lake. Two drowned. They tortured those who tried to run away but were recaptured," Van recalled.

After six months, Van managed to escape. He told the police about the camp and his worker friends were rescued. The trauma, however, took a long time to heal. Even now, hunted by the memories of his days of slavery and torture Van dares not look for jobs far from his hometown.

Just last week, three workers, two of them were just teenager boys 13 and 14 of age, accused the owner of a carpenters' camp they worked at of exploitation.

The boss not only refused to pay their wages, he also threatened them and took away their phones when they said they wanted to go home. The boy later escaped and told police. When the police visited the camp, they were able to rescue many other workers who suffered from the same injustice.

Nguyen Van Binh, deputy head of the Department of Legal Affairs under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), told the Nong Thon Ngay Nay (Countryside Today) newspaper that the lack of official statistics on forced labour in Viet Nam had severely handicapped the ministry's ability to establish policies to coungter them.

Binh claimed the country's 2012 Labour Code already set out regulations to protect workers and prohibit forced labour, but added that ineffective law enforcement helped create such incidents.

"The country's Penal Code covers human trafficking quite well. However, there is no clear guideline on how to proceed with cases of forced labour. The labour ministry is now pushing for forced labour to be included in the revised Penal Code," Binh said.

Marja Paavilainen, chief technical advisor for a programme titled Enhanced Action against Forced Labour in Asia and the Pacific under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said most forced labour victims were children, women and other vulnerable groups.

She said that at the roots of forced labour was the lack of sustainable employment and the fact that the Labour Code did not deter employers from violating labour regulations. She urged the authority to strengthen law reinforcement and promote joint effort between the Labour Code and the Penal Code to address this issue.

The ILO's 11 indicators of forced labour included abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions. — VNS

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