Labour Minister Rennie Dumas says the Chinese firm Beijing Liujing Construction Company has committed no breach of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Osha).
Dumas said so in a interview at his Riverside Plaza office, after a meeting with the Chinese Charge d'Affaires in Port-of-Spain, He Wei, yesterday to discuss the unresolved issues affecting Chinese workers employed by the company. The company is working on two secondary schools, one in Aranguez, the other at Five Rivers. In a release the ministry stated the OSH Authority and Agency inspected the two sites and workplace safety and health were found to be satisfactory at the Aranguez school, where no work was taking place. At the Five Rivers school the authority reported safety and health conditions "were found to be also satisfactory with minor irregularities." Dozens of the workers staged demonstrated on the Uriah Highway near Chaguanas on Tuesday, demanding to be paid their outstanding monies and be sent home. Dumas said yesterday two officials from his ministry, the Chief Conciliator and the Chief Labour Inspector, have been asked to meet with officials of the company and its workers to resolve the outstanding issues.
Dumas said their report, showed that "there were no Osha-related problems at the work sites." "The workers said they expected to be here for 18 months, the company is suggesting that the workers agreed to be here for a minimum of 18 months," the minister said. He said with respect to the outstanding wages for the workers "there is a difference between the wages and a bond which might have accumulated from the wages earned over the last 18 months." He said the money was being seen by the workers as a gratuity. Dealing with the issue of the alleged inhumane living conditions for the workers, Dumas said that was not a labour or Osha issue, it was a health and human issue.
"The company asserts that the employees stopped the cleaners from coming in since this dispute started," he added.
Dumas said the report showed that "conditions were not ideal in terms of welfare or hygiene and suggestions have been made to the company so that it can address the issues." He said the Ministry of Health would be asked to send someone to assist the company in remedying this situation. Dumas said there was a group of about 59 workers who had completed their 18-month contracts and wanted to go home; a further 70, who have suggested that they want to discuss terms and conditions if there were to stay and an additional 50 workers who were willing to stay and work. For those wishing to return home, Dumas said the company was prepared to facilitate the workers, some were demanding that they must get their bond payment before leaving T&T.