At the first stops, the Chinese Embassy, Immigration Office, even UDeCOTT, we were redirected to the contractors hiring and introducing the labourers to the local construction industry.
One Chinese firm, Shanghai Construction Group, has the contract for four of 30 plus projects currently under development by UDeCOTT.
“As has been regularly stated, Shanghai Construction Group is constructing the PoS National Academy for the Performing Arts, The Diplomatic Centre and Official Residence of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago at La Fantasie St Ann’s, the Ministry of Education Tower on St Vincent Street and will soon begin work on the San Fernando National Academy for the Performing Arts,” Udecott spokesperson Danielle Jones told Sunday Newsday.
The Shanghai group is bringing in the majority of workers. Soon though there will be an addition to the number when another Chinese firm, China Jiangsu sets up shop in the local construction industry. For now, Shanghai has accommodated its employees close to projects they are working on.
Temporary structures have been set up at a site used as a car park by the Living Waters Community and the Zen nightclub on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, close to the PoS National Academy for the Performing Arts. Lloyd Hodgekinson of the Living Waters Community said the car park owned by UDeCOTT and both his organisation and the nightclub have arrangements “to use whatever space available.”
There are two, two-storey structures built in what used to be a portion of the car park. The blue and white buildings are walled- in with one access gate facing the remaining portion of the carpark. In these structures are several units which house Chinese construction labourers. They can be seen late in the night observing their surroundings, reading under street lights, chatting with their colleagues or getting ready for bed.
Laundry consisting of blue overalls and underwear hangs from the ceilings of the short walkways by hangers while the yard is littered with gravel and construction tools. Although pleasant, the labourers there could not speak any English.
Another site, larger than the Frederick Street apartments could be found in Santa Cruz. There about four two storey buildings are packed tightly in a walled-in compound surrounded by trees, a large drain and other buildings.
Some workers were already home at six in the evening relaxing barebacked, just outside of the compound, on a corner, creating an all too familiar scene in this country. Others were walking around the compound getting ready for another day of hard work.
One worker there could speak English a little more fluently than his colleagues but when asked about his everyday life, he said he had to get permission from his employers, Shanghai. More workers were arriving on a transport truck. The driver of the truck said the labourers focused mainly on their work. “They work, eat, sleep and then go back to work,” he said. Otherwise they watch DVDs, and count down the days until they return home, he said. There were only men at both compounds, no women or children were present.
Shanghai Construction Company could not be reached for comment.
Jones said that UDeCOTT is not at liberty to disclose or discuss and, in many cases is not privy to, the specific details of the labour contracts, with employees of contractors. Remuneration to labour, living arrangements, workforce numbers and other details, she stated, are the responsibility of the contractor and not usually disclosed by UDeCOTT.
“However, it should be noted that what has been made clear to UDeCOTT is labourers maintain living conditions that are sanitary, comfortable and safe. There have been no reports of concern or complaints to UDeCOTT from labourers in this regard and the projects are all underway with limited, if any, interruption by labour disputes,” she stated
She revealed though there are about 500 Chinese workers on all UDeCOTT projects, half of the total number of foreign workers UDeCOTT has in the country. Comparing this number to the local labour force of more than 500,000 people and the five percent unemployment rate, Jones insisted the introduction of such a small number of workers relative to the employed labour force should not be any cause for concern.
Chief Immigration Officer, Herman Browne said work permits for the Chinese construction labourers are applied for by the different companies and granted by the Ministry of National Security.
He said he was not sure how long the permits lasted, “but most work permits are for one year.” He could not say how many Chinese construction labourers have been to our shores already because, “we are monitoring movement on a large scale and not necessarily targeting the Chinese construction labourers in particular.”