Contractor to be sued for $6m in back pay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 March, 2006, 12:00am

Government decides to take Dickson to court, tightens rules to protect workers

The government will take former Housing Department contractor Dickson Construction to court over unpaid wages, it was disclosed yesterday.

While announcing new government measures to protect construction workers against bosses who fail to pay on time or not at all, the Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said a summons for the violation of the employment ordinance had been sent to Dickson executives on Wednesday.

'I believe the culture [of irregular payment] should be changed,' Mr Cheung said.

According to the Construction Industry Employees General Union, about 400 workers hired by subcontractors of Dickson were still owed $6.6 million. The subcontractors have claimed they had no money to pay the workers because Dickson had not paid them.

Earlier in March, Dickson settled with 61 workers it had hired directly in the Labour Tribunal and agreed to pay them a total of $896,000 in outstanding wages before the middle of June.

Dickson's building contracts in three Housing Department sites were terminated last month after the projects were delayed by more than a year. The government said the company had failed to deploy enough workers and materials.

As part of a new series of measures, Mr Cheung said a demerit system would start from May 1 that would ban a construction company from bidding for government contracts for a maximum of five years if it had been convicted at least three times within one year of violating employment and immigration laws.

Other measures include hiring labour relations officers to handle complaints about overdue or unpaid wages; installing computerised smart cards to record workers' attendance; requiring all site workers to sign employment contracts with contractors and subcontractors; and arranging automatic bank payments.

Mr Cheung has also promised to control and monitor subcontracting within government construction projects.

In a bid to prevent a repeat of the Dickson incident, in which workers employed by subcontractors could not get back their wages, principal contractors would be held responsible for wages owed by subcontractors.

'After the Labour Tribunal has awarded in favour of workers, the government has the right to make use of the [contractor's] contract fees to pay the workers who are owed wages,' the government said in a statement.

Union chairman Choi Chun-wah welcomed the measures but noted they were introduced only after a public outcry surrounding the 'Dickson saga'.

It later emerged the company owed its hundreds of workers million of dollars. While workers hired directly by the company could get some of their unpaid wages, 400 workers hired by subcontractors could not.

'Without the Dickson saga, without our many protests, I genuinely do not think these new policies would be introduced,' he said.