HK-born businessman at centre of clash with unions over importing of workers A group of mainland Chinese tradesmen has become the focus of a bitter row over the Australian government allowing foreign workers to meet the country's dire skills shortage. The 50 construction workers were brought to Australia earlier this year to help build a A$60 million (HK$359 million) tissue paper factory in Sydney. But unions say their lack of English language skills, poor safety training and shoddy work practices have made the Chinese a danger to their 50 Australian co-workers. There are also concerns they are under-paid. One tradesman was astonished to see a Chinese colleague make a Chinese power tool fit an Australian electrical socket by twisting the arms of the plug with a pair of pliers. Some of the mainlanders' work practices were 'straight out of the 1930s', another Australian said. ABC Tissues, one of the principal makers of tissues and toilet paper in Australia with annual revenues of nearly A$200 million, is owned by Hong Kong-born businessman, Henry Ngai. His contributions to charity and political coffers ensured that federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock took part in the sod-turning ceremony for the new factory. The controversy over the building site has focused anger over the increasing number of foreigners, many from Asian countries, being hired in Australia under the government's guest-worker scheme. The number of workers granted temporary work visas leapt from 28,000 in 2004-5 to about 40,000 in the past year. The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) has branded the visa system 'a new form of indentured servitude'. Unions have condemned the 'alarming growth' in visas issued in the past five years and fear cheap foreign labour is being used to undercut the wages and conditions of Australian workers. 'It's impossible for the construction site to discharge health and safety obligations when workers don't speak English,' said Paul Bastian, the AMWU state secretary. 'It leaves the Chinese workers vulnerable to injury and puts in jeopardy their co-workers' safety. The Chinese are being treated as second-class citizens.' The Chinese tradesmen were hired by a mainland firm, the Hunan Industrial Equipment Installation Company, and contracted out to the Italian company which is building the factory. The union suspects the mainlanders are being paid similar wages to those they would receive in China - a fraction of what Australians on the site receive. Mr Ngai declined to return calls but in June he told Australian media: 'This country is short in workers - not easy to get. And good men, good workers is more difficult.' Mr Ngai has also said that he has nothing to do with the construction of the plant or labour issues - a position the union rejects emphatically. 'He's up to his neck in arrangements to bring these labourers in,' Mr Bastian said. 'He's the ultimate beneficiary of the work. As such he must be held to account.' The building site was forced to shut down for two weeks after it received a series of safety infringement notices from New South Wales state authorities. It reopened on Monday after the number of interpreters on the site was increased from one to three and Chinese-language safety signs were installed. But union anger, and concern about unsafe working arrangements, persists. A further 21 mainland workers have been granted visas to work on the site and are due to arrive in the next few weeks. 'It's ludicrous, given their record. We'll be keeping a very close watch on the site to make sure the Chinese workers are treated properly,' Mr Bastian said.Born in Hong Kong, Mr Ngai migrated to Australia in 1985, and started ABC Tissue Products with limited capital.