Friday, January 2, 2009

China Construction Workers Still At MOM

The following article appeared in the New Paper on 2 Jan 2009.

Firm's 'new wage structure' halves their pay
Tan May Ping and Shree Ann Mathavan
2 January 2009
The New Paper

JUST a day after they turned out in full force at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), hordes of China workers were there again yesterday.

The workers claimed that their complaints about their salaries being drastically reduced had yet to be settled with their employers.

Their other bone of contention was that their employers were taking too long to pay their outstanding wages from September onwards.

More than 100 workers from Zhonghe Huaxing Development and China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction Co showed up yesterday and crowded the main entrance of the MOM building at Havelock Road.

Security personnel and the police gotthem to move to the side, away from theentrance.

About 200 workers had gone to the MOM on Tuesday to complain that they had not been paid for four months.

They had also objected to the many 'unfair' deductions from their salaries.

The ministry said on Tuesday that with its intervention, the issues were amicably resolved.

The employers, it said, had banked the September salaries into the workers' accounts that day and had also undertaken to pay all salary arrears by Chinese New Year.

It added that the employers had also undertaken to pay basic salaries on time going forward, and that the parties had reached an understanding on other differences.

But the workers were still unhappy yesterday.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, they said their average monthly salary had been reduced from $1,300 to just $700 plus a variable component that depends on their volume of work.

One construction worker in his 30s claimed they were informed of this only on Monday, when they found posters detailing the change in wage structure posted up in their various accommodations.

He said: 'We were promised before coming (to Singapore) that our pay would be $1,300, now it's completely changed.

'What do they mean by this? We should be paid our entire salary.'

He also said that as the company did not divulge how this variable component is calculated, they would be at the mercy of the company.

Like many of his colleagues, this worker who came to Singapore to work in July last year claimed to have been paid only a fraction of the wages due to him.

'$6,000 still owed'

In the six months he has been here, he claimed he has been paid only $1,000 so far.

Some $6,000 in wages are still owed to him, he claimed.

Workers we spoke to also added that the company's schedule of paying them their overdue wages was taking too long.

A construction worker in his 40s told The New Paper: 'All of us have wives, kids, ageing parents to support and many have borrowed from loan sharks to come here.

'How can they take so long? We are anxious, especially since we want to send money in time for Chinese New Year.'

This worker said that they were informed in a meeting with their employers on Tuesday that the monthly wage deduction of $550 would be discontinued.

This deduction was supposed to be returned to them in a lump sum upon completion of their two-year contract.

However, the $150 deduction for water and electricity would remain.

That is something the workers continue to be unhappy about.

Said the worker: 'We already earn so little and yet they want to deduct this and that.'

The workers hoped that by turning up once again at the doorsteps of MOM, the wage dispute could be settled once and for all.

He said: 'We are hoping for a resolution, so this is the only thing we can do.

'If we go to work or just sleep, the problem won't be settled.'

When contacted, a spokesman for the company said the workers had 'wrongly perceived' that the company's wage structure had changed.

He said the variable component of the wage structure has always been there and is necessary because it takes into account the volume of work that workers do.

'That's our right as an employer. It's not a pay cut, it depends on the work they do.'

He said: 'If workers don't work and keep going to MOM, why should we pay them?'

However, when asked about why the posters clarifying the wage structure were put up, he declined to comment further.

But he noted that the salaries stated by the workers were not listed in the companies' contracts.

He said: 'That is the agents' promise, not ours.'

An MOM spokesman said that some of the workers returned to the ministry to raise additional issues, and it is looking into the matter.

The rest of the workers returned to work yesterday, she added.

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