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Chinese workers protest again

Two workers arrested after they perched on top of tall cranes for 9 hours in protest over pay dispute. -TNP
Shaffiq Alkhatib and Elizabeth Law

Sun, Dec 09, 2012
The New Paper

Mr Zhu Guilei (in yellow shirt left, and right in the photo on the right) and Wu Xiaolin climbed up tower cranes after they had a pay dispute employer whose parent company in China recruited SMRT drivers too.

SINGAPORE - He sat huddled near the cabin of a tower crane, about 10 storeysabove the ground as storm clouds gathered ominously on Thursday afternoon.

Even after raindrops started pelting down at around 3pm, Mr Wu Xiaolin, 47, refused to budge.

The Chinese national had been on the crane since early Thursday morning, protesting against his employer over a pay dispute.

Mr Zhu Guilei, 24, Mr Wu's countryman and colleague, climbed up a nearby crane in the morning, but came down at around 2.30pm.

The general workers with Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International had told the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday that they had resigned and were planning to return home.

They claimed they were owed outstanding salaries but did not have any supporting documents.

The men agreed to return with the documents but by 6.30am on Thursday, they were staging their protest on separate cranes at a construction site at Jalan Buroh, near Jurong Port Road.

Last year, another Zhong Jiang employee climbed a crane to protest a pay dispute.

Checks by The New Paper also showed that its parent company in China is involved in recruiting bus drivers for SMRT.

TNP understands the two men in Thursday's protest did not threaten suicide.

The company's human resource executive, Ms Alice Chua, told TNP that the men joined the firm in April.

Police called

The police, who received a call about the incident at around 6.30am, confirmed the men had an ongoing pay dispute with their employer.

TNP reached the worksite at 10am and spotted the two men perched on adjacent tower cranes, about 20 metres away from each other.

Mr Zhu, who was dressed in a bright yellow top and boots, was sitting precariously on the counterweight of one of the cranes while Mr Wu was leaning against a ladder near the boom of the other.

They were talking animatedly on their mobile phones. At around noon, Zhong Jiang's project manager, Mr Yuen Ai Jun, told TNP that police negotiators were talking to the pair.

Work on the construction of a six-storey warehouse at the muddy site had to be halted because of the incident.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said that because of the ground conditions, its officers were unable to deploy safety airbags, which are used when individuals are at risk of falling from height.

The police said their crisis negotiation unit was activated to get the two men to come down to safety.

Mr Zhu was the first to come down, escorted by three SCDF officers, at around 2.30pm. It took four hours of negotiation to get him to comply.

But Mr Wu, who wore a black shirt with dark trousers, refused to budge.

About an hour later, as the rain got heavier and the wind picked up, he finally threw in the towel. At 3.20pm, three SCDF officers climbed up the scaffolding towards him.

Amid flashes of lighting, Mr Wu gingerly made his way down, accompanied by the officers.

When they reached the ground about 10 minutes later, they quickly made their way to a sheltered area.

The two men were arrested for unlawfully remaining at the place and intentionally causing alarm. If convicted, they can be jailed and fined.

MOM said preliminary findings showed that the two men had approached the ministry the day before. In July last year, Mr Zhu had gone to MOM to enquire how he and a friend could resign and return home.

TNP understands that this friend was not Mr Wu.

MOM's spokesman said that Mr Zhu was then working for a different company.

She said: "On (Wednesday), Mr Zhu approached MOM's customer relations officers at its services centre with Mr Wu as they had tendered their resignation and planned to return home.

"They claimed they had outstanding salaries owed to them. However, the workers did not have the necessary documents to support these claims.

"MOM officers asked them to return with the documents so that (the ministry) could investigate and the workers had agreed to do so."

Will take action

MOM said it will not hesitate to take action against employers who fail to pay their workers on time and it takes a serious view of employers who do not comply with employment laws.

"Workers should not take matters into their own hands and break the law. Workers facing employment issues should approach MOM for advice and assistance," said the spokesman.

Speaking to TNP, Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, the vice-president of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said wage disputes among foreign workers are quite common.

She said that TWC2 would advise the workers to lodge their complaints with MOM.

Ms Bridget Tan, chief executive of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said this incident is another wake-up call over how local companies treat its foreign workers, following last week's strike involving SMRT bus drivers.

"Some foreign workers don't understand the reality of working in Singapore. Some employers manage their workers well but some don't," she said.

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