Building workers keep up pressure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 July, 2002, 12:00am

About 100 construction workers took to the streets yesterday to demand stricter controls on the industry's subcontracting system.

The workers' anger was fuelled by a rise in cases of subcontractors defaulting on wages, often for work on government-funded projects, with recent disputes turning violent.

On July 19, a clash broke out at a Yau Tong public housing work site between police and 40 decorators demanding what they claimed was $10 million in unpaid wages from their subcontractor employer.

Three days earlier, 50 workers stormed the Western head office of China Rich Holdings Ltd, demanding payments of wages and fees allegedly totalling more than $70 million for two public drainage projects in Shamshuipo and Yuen Long.

Last week, the government introduced measures aimed at ensuring construction workers are paid on time, including more on-site inspections and a reporting system under which workers raise an early alarm over unpaid wages.

But many workers remain unconvinced by the new measures, introduced after a meeting between labour officials, employer associations and union representatives.

During a rally in Wan Chai yesterday, workers demanded more action from the government before marching to government headquarters in Central.

As part of tighter regulations sought for subcontractors, the workers want principal contractors to keep a copy of workers' duties and pay records, which can help in subsequent efforts to seek wages from defaulting subcontractors.

The Construction Site Workers' General Union, which organised the march, said subcontractors owed about 3,000 workers more than $40 million from cases the union has handled in the first half of this year.

Union chairman Chan Chi-leung said the problem of unpaid wages had taken a turn for the worse as more subcontractors found themselves facing cash-flow problems after submitting extremely low bids to win contracts.

'The subcontracting system in Hong Kong . . . results in the subcontractors being unable to make a profit,' Mr Chan said, forcing the companies into liquidation and leaving workers unpaid.