For Waiting Cambodian Workers, Greece May Be Far Off

The despondent 40-year-old plumber had lost his job, sold his truck and even divorced his wife. On Wednesday he and others stood outside an employment office sustained by only an elusive dream:

“All the people here, they dream of going to Greece,” he said. “I’m blue.”

The man is one of more than 1,200 Cambodians who expected to leave Aug 25 for Athens to work on construction projects for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Now the departure date is being delayed, and the men are out several hundred dollars in up-front costs.

The men said they spent $45 for a health exam and $70 to have their passports processed. They put down a $500 deposit after receiving their passports.

The plumber, who asked that his name not be used, said he had sold his truck to afford the deposit. He said he knew people who had sold their motorbikes, their land and even their houses to make the payments.

His wife had di­vor­ced him because she was leery of the plan and didn’t want him to go to Greece, he said.

But the man was persistent because he would earn more than $5 an hour in Greece.

The workers will make anywhere from $500 to $2,500 a month in Greece, with their housing and meals paid for by their employer, said Chhim Tittha Vong, general manager of KCT Construction and Tours, the local contractor on the project.

A Canadian-based construction company, JRN International, has agreed to hire Cambodian workers for up to three years in Greece, where they will build a highway, an Olympic villa and possibly a new stadium, Chhim Tittha Vong said. The workers will have one-year renewable contracts.

Earlier this month officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs acknowledged they were about a month behind schedule in processing passports for the workers.

Almost all the workers have now received passports, Chhim Tittha Vong said. Now JRN is negotiating with the Greek government over measures to prevent the workers from trying to immigrate, he said.

The Greek government wants JRN to hire 54 Greek security guards.

JRN says that option is too expensive, and is proposing to confiscate the workers’ passports and limit their movements to brief, guarded excursions from their housing and work site, he said.

The workers will be paid only $50 of their monthly salaries while in Greece, with the rest held until their return, to ensure that they return, he said.

Worldwide instability may also delay the departure date, he said. JRN had planned to fly the workers directly to Greece on four chartered airplanes.

But that would require flying over Af­ghanistan, which is now bracing for a possible military attack.

The $500 deposits are to guarantee that the workers go to Greece, and that they perform well when they are there, he said.

JRN could not be reached for comment Wednesday.


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