It was a long, intense day of near clashes with riot police for the Chinese who have now been fired by Beijing Liujian for breach of contract for refusing to work in protest over two months pay. Arrangements are being made for them to be returned to China.
The Chinese assigned to construction projects at the Five Rivers and Aranguez government secondary schools began their protest from at about 7 am walking from their camp at Chatee Trace, Cunupia where they refused to board an old, re-furbished blue bus and a red-band maxi taxi to be taken to the job sites.
They had walked almost two miles along the Uriah Butler Highway before police officers from the Chaguanas Police Station intercepted them in Charlieville. Not knowing exactly where they were walking to, the labourers held signs written in broken English and Chinese characters protesting low wages.
When the police tried to communicate with them the labourers sought refuge in the tall fields of grass which line the highway. They sat down, refusing to move at which point heavily-armed riot police officers of the Guard and Emergency Branch arrived.
The riot police wore full body armour and gas masks carrying heavy submachine and tear-gas guns as they too tried to get the Chinese out of the fields and on to the bus and maxi taxi which had arrived by that time.
The labourers showed the police hand written notes in broken English and Chinese accusing Beijing Liujian of not paying them.
One note, written on a torn piece of paper read: “Return blood money, return wages. We has too many monies detain by boss. The contract is due, need law, help us. Cash, give it to us.”
After nearly two hours of coaxing the labourers, the police hustled them out of the grassy fields and got them into the bus and maxi, although some of the Chinese were defiant and one of them stood up to a burly, baton wielding policeman. The labourer eventually got into the bus without any further challenge to the officer.
The labourers were taken to the human resource office of the Immigration Division at the corner of New and Oxford Streets in Port-of-Spain where immigration officials met with officials of Beijing Liujian. Later on, Chinese Embassy officials would liaise with immigration.
While there, some of the labourers showed reporters more pieces of paper with hand-written messages. Unlike some of the notes in Chinese and broken English, one letter was written in clear English and the writer appealed for the intervention of the Trinidad and Tobago Government.
It stated: “Honourable Trinidad Government and to whom it may concern: We the workers of the Beijing Liujian T&T Ltd. We have been working in Trinidad for more than 18 months for this particular company, and are writing to inform you that we have not been paid by this company for at least two months. We would like the named company to give us our hard-earned wages according to our contract, Article 3.2.
“We are pleading with the Trinidad Government and whoever is handling this situation to consider this letter and please give us needed assistance. Thank you for your consideration of this matter. Yours Sincerely.”
After waiting five hours outside the immigration office, without anything to eat or drink, several of the labourers got out of the bus and maxi because of the heat and sat on the sidewalk. Two workers fell ill because of the humidity. The workers were allowed into the immigration compound to get water to drink and use the toilet. While they could not speak English properly they tried to communicate with the little English they knew and with hand gestures. Several labourers indicated they wanted to go home to China.
A source familiar with the Chinese labourers said, “They work day and night. They work hard, sweating bucket a drop.” He described where they lived as a “jail”.
Liang Gong, director of the commercial office at the Chinese Embassy, arrived to speak to the labourers. They were not impressed with what he had to say and a few walked away. Gong selected one labourer as a spokesman and asked for three representatives to go to the Chinese Embassy on Alexandra Street, St Clair. The labourers who remained behind grew tired of waiting and began walking to the embassy.
Daisy Feng, assistant to the managing director of Beijing Liujian, said the labourers were fired because they had not completed their contracts and wanted to return home before the expiration of the contracts.
“We need to terminate their work permit with the Ministry of National Security. We are arranging right now according to the laws of the work permit. We arrange for a flight for them to go back to China. We have already told workers to wait for the arrangement of the work flight.”
Asked about the labourers’ claims for outstanding pay, Feng said, “We have already paid them.” She said to ensure the workers fulfilled their contracts they were asked to pay a deposit.
“We need to claim for the work permit that is why, we need to pay for the bond. To make sure they fulfill their performance of the contract and they pay the deposit.”
She said because the contracts ended before the expiration date the workers will not receive their deposits. Asked how much the deposit was, Feng said she was not part of the contract signing and could not comment on their salaries.
According to a contract showed to Newsday, Beijing Liujian keeps two months of the workers’ salary “as a reservation and pays off to Party B (the worker) when the contract expires”.
The contract also states the labourer has a right to discharge the contract on any of the following grounds: when the salary is not settled and paid based on his contract; when the worker is “forced to work by brutal violence, threat or freedom restraint”.
After the labourers walked to Alexandra Street, an official from the embassy met with them and invited three representatives to speak to the Ambassador. The workers spent some time drafting their concerns in writing and at 4.19 pm four workers eventually went into the embassy. As they waited at Jackson Square a short distance from the embassy the Chinese had a meal of bread and Coca Cola.
However, hours later, they remained at the square and again defied the police when they were asked to leave. Once more, the situation became tense before the police arrested the labourers and escorted them back on the same bus and maxi in which they were brought to Port-of-Spain. They were taken back to Chatee Trace.