Leisure Clothing: more details of the terrible scandal emerge in court today

Published: December 30, 2014 at 4:23pm
The company was actually set up in 1986, not 1987.

The company was actually set up in 1986, not 1987.

Nguyen Thi Hien, who was caught trying to flee from Malta using fake papers because her passport had been taken by Leisure Clothing, testified in court this morning in the police case against the company.

She said that she was contracted for the job in Malta by an agency in Vietnam, which took $3,500 from her as some kind of payment or deposit. When she changed her mind about going to Malta, because the conditions listed in the contract she was given – after she paid the money – were not the same ones she had been told about, the agency refused to return her $3,500.

Because she had borrowed that capital sum from her family and had to repay it, she came to Malta against her will to work on the sewing machines at Leisure Clothing. The contract she was given said that she would be paid $140 a month and then an unspecified production bonus. Her agreement to do the job had been obtained by promising her payment of $600 a month.

$140 a month is a violation of Maltese law. Maltese laws are applicable within Maltese territory and do not depend on the citizenship of the individual. Vietnamese and Chinese people who work legally in Maltese territory – i.e. with a work permit – are protected by the same labour laws, including number of working hours and minimum wage, that Maltese people and other EU nationals are.

Nguyen told the court – presided over by Magistrate Carol Peralta – that the people who picked her up from Malta airport took her passport and drove her to the barracks at Hal Far. (This is where Leisure Clothing’s indentured labourers are kept.)

She was put to work SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays she worked a 15-hour shift. On Tuesdays and Saturdays she worked an 13-hour shift, and on Sundays a 12-hour shift. This hideous abuse is another gross violation of Maltese law. She would get one day off every fortnight.

She started work every day at 7am (8am on Sundays), and for the hours worked between 5.45pm and 9.30pm she was paid €1.70 a day.

Every day, she had one hour’s break in total, divided into three periods: 15 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for supper eaten in the factory.

She wasn’t paid anything for a long while, because Leisure Clothing told her that her first €2,000 would be retained by the company as “insurance” in case she couldn’t or wouldn’t carry on working.

After that, every eight weeks she was paid €150 in cash. The hours listed on her payslips did not reflect the true number of hours she worked, Nguyen said. Sometimes, she worked 14 hours and was paid €10.

Nguyen Thi Hien will continue her testimony on 7 January.

Leisure Clothing is fully owned by the Chinese state. With the active or blind-eye cooperation of the Maltese government over several years, the Chinese government has been able to reproduce Chinese working conditions in Malta, making clothes as cheaply as it would back home in China but with that all-important ‘Made in EU’ label.

This is a truly terrible scandal, which has been exposed only because a few of the indentured labourers tried to escape and were caught because their passports had been taken away from them so they were using false papers.

When the police interrogated them about those false documents, they told their story and the police were left with no choice but to take action against Leisure Clothing, especially once Malta Right Now broke the story and this website continued to cover it, and pressure from public opinion continued to build up.

16 Comments Comment

  1. wacko says:

    My bet is that Tony Zarb and/or the GWU will remain silent on this “precarious employment”.

    • vic says:

      Or, to rub more salt in the wound, they will come out defending the employers.

    • Ahdem barrani! says:

      To the GWU no doubt only Maltese workers are considered human. L-Orizzont seems like a Far Right paper full of conspiratorial anti-Semitism so how can we expect anything more than inertia from them?

  2. A V says:


    “…and her assertion that she had no free time drew howls of disapproval from a number of Maltese Leisure Clothing employees who were present.”

    This is what I think is scandalous. Did Leisure Clothing organise a bus-load of supporters so as to intimidate those who were testifying? Did Magistrate Peralta find their behaviour in Court proper?

    • The Phoenix says:

      The howls of disapproval were by those Maltese who are seeing this woman, and others, as the rocks on which their company, as well as their jobs, will founder.

      Serves them right. They should have stuck up for their fellow workers.

      She being Vietnamese is no excuse. There is an unwritten code of solidarity amongst all workers on the shop floor. The Maltese workers have broken it. I’m willing to bet that their preferred unjin is the GWU. Any takers?

  3. P Shaw says:

    The Malta Independent is very disappointing. they are being ‘used’ to spin and rehabiliate the owners/managers of Leisure Clothing.

    Given their recent stories on Simon Busuttil, they are fast going down the shameful and amateur road of the Times of Malta and the Malta Today. Probably, they are still desperate to get that TV programme on TVM and a trip to China.

    Castille and the OPM is holding all the newspaper editors by a very short leash.

  4. I wonder how much money China is making out of this enterprise and how much it has contributed to Malta.

    How many Maltese persons it has employed, in what capacities and at what salaries?

    Has this enterprise competed unfairly with similar Maltese enterprises that had to close down?

    Irrespective of what the answers may be, employment under the conditions being revealed in court should never be permitted in Malta.

  5. edgar says:

    Is anybody out there worried about the magistrate presiding over this case?

    • ken il malti says:

      You mean because he is an alleged Freemason?

      Do you suspect the hidden hand of Jubelon will magically absolve the Chinese factory owner and the Chinese government of any wrong doings?

    • Goth says:

      Just give him some rice wine and he’ll be right as rain.

    • c says:

      Good comment. I’m actually very worried because the magistrate had already made comments previously that he has seen no proof of abuse and had urged the police to provide solid evidence. What more evidence does he need than this declaration under oath by the person who has suffered the abuse? I hope justice is seen to be done in this case.

  6. verita says:

    The working conditions of Leisure Clothing’s employees are no different to those in the China iPhone-manufacturing scandal.

  7. J. Agius says:

    A recent edition of the BBC programme Panorama exposed the conditions of Chinese workers in a factory that produces iPhones. The parallels in that story and that of Leisure Clothing are astounding and scary. It’s a programme worth watching.

  8. Freedom5 says:

    P Shaw, The Malta Independent is relaying the opinion polls re Busuttil/Muscat. They are very similar to Malta Today’s polls, which have always been fairly accurate.

    The results may not please you (or me), but they are what they are – Busuttil is still way behind Muscat. No way can the PN can close the gap if its leader is not perceived to be alternative prime minister material.

  9. T says:

    “$140 a month is a violation of Maltese law” – even $600 as allegedly offered is in violation of Maltese Law, not to mention employment conditions. I would venture to query as to how and where these people are being accommodated.

    [Daphne – In a set of substandard barracks at Hal Far.]

  10. nistaqsi says:

    The barracks are probably government property. Is there a lease agreement and if so who are the parties to the agreement?

    If there is some form of contract who signed on behalf of the Maltese government? Does the agreement refer to the use of barracks for accommodation or for other purposes? If the agreement expired, who was responsible for its renewal?

    Most important of all, what did the Maltese officials involved know about the treatment of these foreigners?

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