Chinese contract workers from Beijing Liujan Construction Corporation have demanded that they be allowed to go home after claiming that the company has failed to pay them for two months' work.
Yesterday, more than 100 Chinese workers staged a demonstration on the southbound lane of the Solomon Hochoy Highway. The workers, who were contracted to do work on the Five Rivers project in Chaguanas, started their demonstration at 5 am, causing a massive traffic jam, even on the northbound lane of the highway, as commuters slowed down to look at them. When police arrived on the scene, the workers said they were not being allowed to return to China and were forced to live and work in unfavourable conditions. The police were then informed by the company that some of the workers were in the country illegally.
As a precaution, the police had the protesters escorted to the Immigration Office, Henry Street in Port-of- Spain. When contacted, head of the North/Central Division ACP Shah Mohammed said the Chinese nationals who were detained by police were handed over to immigration officials because some of the detainees' status in the country needed to be clarified by the Immigration Department. However, when the workers arrived at the Immigration Office, it was discovered that all of the workers were in the country legally and had their work permits. Commercial officer at the Chinese Embassy in Port-of-Spain, Gang Liang, said the embassy's main role was to ensure that the legal rights of the workers were being observed.
He said the embassy did not condone any illegal or violent activity and he was on hand to ensure a peaceful solution could be met. Liang said it was a strict policy of the embassy to inform all Chinese nationals who entered the country that as foreigners, they were obligated to obey and follow the laws of T&T. He said the embassy would continue to monitor and investigate the situation. A representative of Beijing Construction, Daisy Feng, denied allegations that the workers had not been paid, and said they were not working in poor conditions. Feng said she could not give the exact details of the contracts signed between the company and workers, but said the contracts varied by projects.
She said the majority of the workers had been in Trinidad for 18 months and that the company would be holding talks with them to sort out the situation. After leaving the Immigration Office, the workers went to the Chinese Embassy at Alexandra Street, St Clair, where they continued their protest. But just after 7 pm, heavily-armed police officers took away the workers in police buses. It was unclear, last night, where they were being taken.