Eleven of the more than 90 Chinese construction workers on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island who claim their employer withheld their pay and confiscated their passports returned to China on Monday, according to a police official.
The construction workers, who protested outside the Chinese Embassy on Friday to bring attention to their plight, are currently residing at a construction site on Koh Pich operated by the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), which is listed on the Shanghai stock exchange.
Prak Vanna, director of the Phnom Penh foreigner police office, said that 11 of the 96 workers returned to China on Monday as authorities continue to investigate the case.
“We are working on solving this issue,” he said. “Today we have solved 11 and they took their passports from us in order to go back to their homes—their tickets were to go back home today. We still have 85 more passports.”
Mr. Vanna said authorities were working with CSCEC to send the workers back home, but said he did not know which company was responsible for failing to pay them.
“We are not sure about how many companies they worked for and we are doing our investigation,” he said. “The company [buying the plane tickets] is on Koh Pich.”
A supervisor at the construction site on Sunday said that a CSCEC subcontractor, Sino Great Wall, failed to pay two months’ worth of wages to the workers, and that their passports were in the hands of immigration officials. He said CSCEC would purchase plane tickets to send the workers home.
At the Phnom Penh branch of the China-based Sino Great Wall International Engineering company Monday, a man identified by staff as a manager denied that the firm was responsible for the workers’ grievances.
“There’s no direct relationship to Sino Great Wall,” said the manager, speaking through a translator and declining to identify himself. “The workers who protested are from another company.”
The manager said that Sino Great Wall subcontracted work to CityKey Construction Engineering, a drilling company, which then subcontracted work out to a fourth company that he accused of cheating the workers.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hong Bo declined to discuss the case.
“I will check with my colleague in the Embassy’s consular department and reply to you timely,” he said in an email.