Chinese human trafficking accused owe Labour Department R7m, court hears
Port Elizabeth - The seven Chinese nationals who were arrested last year for alleged human trafficking and violation of the country’s labour laws owed the Department of Employment and Labour more than R7-million for contravention of labour laws, the department said.
Testifying on Wednesday in their bail hearing in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court, Employment and Labour Department Gauteng provincial chief inspector advocate Michael Msiza asked that further criminal charges be brought against the accused for contravention of the labour laws.
The accused are Kevin Tsao, Chen Hui, Qin Li, Jiaqing Zhou, Ma Biao, Dai Junying, and Zhang Zhilian. The seven Chinese nationals were operating a factory called Beautiful City Pty Ltd in Village Deep, Johannesburg.
The seven Chinese nationals - four males and three females - were arrested on 12 November 2019 in a joint operation by the Department of Employment and Labour’s Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) branch in Gauteng together with the South African Police Services (SAPS), Home Affairs and the Hawks.
The arrests followed a tip-off that the Chinese nationals were allegedly involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants and subjecting them to forced labour.
During the blitz 91 Malawian nationals were found in the factory, 37 of them were children. The Court has since heard that the Malawians working in the factory were transported to South Africa through containers.
The accused are alleged to have been brought to South Africa by a middleman known as “the transporter” who is still on the run.
In an affidavit submitted by the SAPS/Hawks in court, the authorities intend to charge the accused with schedule six offence.
The accused will face charges ranging from human trafficking, debt bondage, kidnapping and pointing of a firearm. The Department has filed a statement requesting additional charges - those of contravention of labour laws be added.
Msiza told the court that the laws contravened by the accused include failure to register, keep record of earnings, pay annual assessment and furnish the commissioner with particulars in relation to the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, and owes – R659 879.11.
They had also contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the National Minimum Wage Act, he said.
The provincial inspector said the contraventions carry either a fine or imprisonment, or both. Msiza also testified that the fact that the Malawians were “illegal” in the country does not absolve the employer from his/her obligations to abide by the labour laws.
“It is also an obligation of an employer to check the status of an employee when hiring,” Msiza said, adding that the department was considering attaching the property (factory) owned by the Chinese to recover what it was owed.
In another development, it emerged in court that the Chinese nationals have since brought another bail application with the High Court. In their application the Chinese nationals allegedly cite “ill-health” in their application to be granted bail.
Warrant Officer Lulama Kona from the Hawks testified during the bail hearing that he was not aware of any “medical illness” of the accused.
The matter has been postponed to 12 February for further bail application. The accused have been remanded in custody.
African News Agency (ANA)