Workers at flat projects vow to fight for wages

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am

Unionists in talks after housing officials take over Dickson Construction sites

Despite resistance from workers and threats of a court injunction, housing officials yesterday took over three construction sites worth $1.3 billion formerly held by its contractor Dickson Construction.

But the takeover was not the end of the issue as angry workers last night vowed to stage protests if the Housing Authority refused to pay wages owed to them from Dickson's $35 million retention money.

A meeting between housing officials, workers and unionists - arranged in exchange for workers' voluntary withdrawal from the three construction sites - was continuing last night.

Workers claim Dickson owed them more than $10 million in wages and millions more was owed to subcontractors.

Officials insisted the retention money - a deposit paid by the contractor before work starts - was to pay for any possible losses by the authority and it was inappropriate to use the cash to help a private company still in operation.

'We are now exploring alternatives on how to resolve the problem peacefully,' said Ada Fung Yin-suen, deputy director of housing, during a break from the meeting.

She said this case could not be compared with a 2003 case in which workers received up to $2 million in unpaid wages from the retention money. The wages were paid only after the project was completed.

On Tuesday, the Housing Authority said it would take over the three sites - two in Fanling and one in Shek Pai Wan, Aberdeen - after terminating the contracts over delays blamed on manpower and materials shortages.

Dickson has been silent on the issue for the past two days, though it had said it was considering applying for a court injunction.

There was little resistance to authorities during the takeover at two sites, but workers at the Fanling site had refused to leave.

And a group of Wong Chuk Hang estate residents fighting for earlier resettlement in the same district protested outside the Shek Pai Wan site.

Workers at the Fanling site said contractors had been working until 4am yesterday to dismantle and remove cranes and other valuables from the uncompleted buildings.

Some offices and the canteen were deserted. Portable toilets had also been removed.

'The Dickson management cut all the phones and there are no instructions whatsoever from them. We can do nothing to stop those creditors from entering the sites and removing property,' said a Dickson employee at the site.

A subcontractor at the Fanling site, who claimed Dickson owed him $4 million, said the takeover was frustrating and the Housing Authority had the ultimate responsibility to pay them.

Another worker, Li Chin-suen, said he preferred Dickson to continue running the project. 'If it carries on, at least I have a chance to work for two more years. Now I am unemployed,' he said.

Apart from the housing sites, the Architectural Services Department is also considering taking over a $170 million contract to improve six schools that has been delayed.

The Labour Department said 70 workers had registered to recoup owed wages. Since October last year, a total of 330 out of 577 workers who had filed claims for unpaid wages had received $4.5 million.