Ninety-five Chinese nationals working at a construction site on Koh Pich island protested outside the Chinese Embassy on Friday and then visited a commune office on Saturday to lodge a complaint against their employer for allegedly confiscating their passports.
Pea Horn, chief of Chamkar Mon district’s Olympic commune, said the workers visited his office after the protest at the embassy because they believe their boss resides in the commune.
“They came to my commune office because they want us to intervene to find their manager who stayed in a guesthouse in my location,” he said. “We went to check there, but he was gone.”
Mr. Horn said it was difficult to communicate with the workers, who only spoke Chinese, and that he did not know which company employed them.
“I just know they accused their manager of taking their passports, but I am not sure about more details because they cannot speak Khmer,” he said.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hong Bo declined to discuss the case.
“I don’t have any information right now,” he said.
At the construction site—operated by the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC)—workers on Sunday were eager to share information, but a translator at the site refused to help them.
One worker scribbled notes in a reporter’s notebook in Chinese.
“We want to go back to our country,” he wrote. “Restriction of personal freedom. No human rights.”
The translator, who would only identify himself as an office worker, called a superior on his mobile phone. Upon arriving, the man instructed workers to return to their temporary lodgings.
Refusing to identify himself, the supervisor sat down with a reporter and spoke through a translator.
He said that a CSCEC subcontractor had failed to pay the workers two months’ worth of wages. The man said that the workers’ passports were being processed by immigration authorities, then CSCEC would buy them plane tickets to return home.
But as the interview concluded, the man ordered a colleague to confiscate a reporter’s notes, refusing to return them unless press credentials were produced. Upon being presented with the credentials about 30 minutes later, CSCEC supervisors still refused to return the notes.
Another translator speaking for the supervisors, who identified herself as Mei, said reporters did not have permission to be at the construction site.
“To be honest, we sent your notes to our security office and it’s hard to get them back,” she said.