Workers end protest over unpaid Libyan wages

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2011, 12:00am

Over 100 Chinese workers airlifted from Libya protested at Guangzhou airport overnight to demand payment of their unpaid wages before they finally agreed to return to their hometown in Henan province early yesterday morning.

They are among 32,000 Chinese nationals evacuated from the troubled North African country, which is on the brink of civil war.

The workers, plus three from Hubei and about 10 from Xinyang, Henan, were hired by the Tianying Construction Company, based in Changde, Hunan. Their wage protest began when they landed in Guangzhou on Tuesday afternoon and ended at 5am yesterday.

Director of the general office of Tianying Construction, Wang Xiangyou, who accompanied the workers from Guangzhou to their hometown in Xin county yesterday, told the South China Morning Post that it was understandable that they were worried about their wages because they had already lost almost everything in Libya. 'All their dormitories in Libya were ransacked,' he said, 'Some unlucky guys were even forced by the soldiers to hand over all their money before leaving the country. When I asked them about the situation there, their fear returned immediately.'

Tianying Construction has promised to pay all the wages owed to the Henan workers within two weeks. Wang said the amount owed totalled about one million yuan (HK$ 1.18 million) and he and another deputy general manager of the company would stay in Xin county, as the workers had requested, until they received their money.

Wang, one of several Tianying Construction staff members responsible for receiving more than 200 workers returning from Libya, said there had been some confusion while preparing for their return.

He said the company was told on Sunday morning that the workers would arrive in Beijing. But when they called to confirm the itinerary before leaving for Beijing that afternoon, they were told the destination had been changed to Urumqi .

Wang and his colleagues then flew to the Xinjiang capital on Monday. But after making hotel reservations and renting buses for the workers, they were told that 50 would arrive in Beijing and the rest in Guangzhou.

Wang said it was the first time that Tianying Construction had undertaken an overseas construction project. It was building two- to four-storey houses in the western Libyan harbour city of Zuara.

But after more than two years the projects, which were subcontracted by the state-owned China Hydropower Consultants Group, had brought the company only losses.

'As far as we know, no projects run by Chinese companies in Libya are profitable,' he said. 'We will be more careful when selecting countries next time.'

Chinese state-owned enterprises have more than US$14 billion worth of infrastructure and oil projects in Libya, plus many others throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Poor returns

Around 100 workers brought home from Libya by Tianying Construction are owed wages amounting to, in yuan: 1m yuan