CHINA and Hong Kong officials called yesterday for the better protection of about 3,000 mainland workers on various projects at the $158 billion airport core programme. Chinese Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Wu Yi said in Beijing government departments had to protect the rights of Chinese workers overseas. Ms Wu is the most senior Chinese official to comment on the latest round of labour problems, which involve a third of the mainland airport workers. Governor Chris Patten has spoken to Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping. 'We believed that those workers who were imported, like our own local workers, should have the full protection of the laws and regulations concerning their terms of employment as well as their safety at work.' About 1,000 mainland workers have complained in the past two weeks that up to 90 per cent of their wages have been deducted. Stephen Ip Shu-kwan, the Commissioner for Labour, said the department was conducting investigations into the complaints by workers from six major airport-related projects. The department is also investigating similar complaints by another 1,000 Thai workers. Mr Ip said sub-contractors and main contractors would be prosecuted if they had deducted or helped deduct wages illegally. Under the workers' contracts, about 25 per cent of wages can be deducted for food and accommodation provided by the employers. Mr Ip said he was trying to limit the deduction to 10 per cent if workers chose to buy their own food.