A GWU representative said that the union “was not involved in the agreement concluded with foreign workers” at Leisure Clothing Limited.
The union was asked whether it was aware of the status of Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean workers following the factory’s closure some months ago.
The Malta Independent last week revealed that Leisure Clothing Factory, a former retail manufacturing unit embroiled in a human trafficking and employment law violation court case, closed its manufacturing unit some months ago. It was also revealed that the foreign workers who were previously placed at the Hal Far barracks are no longer residing there.
This newsroom therefore sent questions to the GWU in order to find out about what happened to these workers, whether their passports had been returned to them and whether they have been returned home.
In response, a representative said: “With regard to the case you (The Malta Independent) are referring to, the role of GWU was just for it to ensure that workers who were not engaged directly by Leisure Clothing (therefore engaged through an agency), are able to benefit from the same conditions that workers directly employed by Leisure Clothing, and that they were all covered by the collective agreement. It must be said that this task was undertaken by GWU even though the same foreign workers were not members of the union.
“With regard to your questions, we urge you to pass them on to a member of the management team (of Leisure Clothing) because as GWU, we were not involved in the understanding concluded with these foreign workers.”
In 2015 Managing director Han Bin, from San Gwann, and marketing director Jia Liu, from Birzebbuga, were charged with human trafficking and breaching a number of employment violations over the conditions endured by Vietnamese and Chinese workers.
At the time the workers’ accommodation quarters were the Hal-Far barracks. Upon visiting the barracks as part of its investigation, The Malta Independent learnt through nearby sources that the workers had vacated their accommodation some four months ago.
Sources say that the nine witnesses who testified in the human trafficking and employment violation case are still in Malta today. Local media reports have said that after the story broke out, the company made some efforts to improve conditions – but this does not necessarily indicate that conditions were brought in line with the law.
Throughout the court proceedings, workers at the factory testified that they had only received some €150 every two months. A worker took the witness stand to say that she was initially prevented from seeing a doctor after she fell ill. Multiple sources have confirmed that the workers were employed on a definite contract, however the time period covered by the contract is not known.
Roughly 260 workers were placed in the Hal Far barracks, which brought to light the allegedly unhealthy and illegal working conditions they were made to endure.
In February 2016, local media reports said that the company would be sending back Vietnamese and North Korean workers because of the abusive working conditions allegations, and that it would keep Chinese workers.
Sources at the accommodation said that there are no more workers – it remains unclear whether they were all actually sent back home, whether some have been placed somewhere else in Malta and whether they received all payment owed to them for the hours worked.
Leisure Clothing Company will be moving into other business, a spokesman for the management said.
The government has not yet issued a statement on the future of Leisure Clothing. Prior the 2013 election the Labour Party had promised to revive the clothing industry which according to former Minister Austin Gatt was a dead industry.