This is an update on the Chinese workers who were featured in Alex Au’s articles, Muddy Singapore Swallows China Workers (Part One & Two). You can also read Alex Au's updates here: http://yawningbread.org/
There has been much interest and concern generated by Alex Au’s blog entries about a group of China construction workers employed by Xuyi Building Engineering Co. (see ‘Muddy Singapore Swallows China Workers’). Here is an update on the six men.
The photo above - of former Xuyi employees, Chen Yu Guang and Xue Cheng Ming, who were taken by repatriation companies hired by their company - was taken on 12 Dec 2008, the day Chen and Xue returned to China. Released from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority just two days earlier, the men were relieved to be released and anxious to return home after their ordeal.
Xue told me his wife in China received a telephone call the morning he was taken against his will from his dormitory. The caller told Xue’s wife ‘your husband is causing trouble in Singapore and will be taken away’. Shortly after, Xue’s wife tried to ring him but as his phone had been confiscated, was unable to get through. For the next eight days, as Xue was confined in a repatriation company, then the police station and finally at ICA, she was frantic with worry. Her husband had gone missing and she had no way to contact him.
Both Chen and Xue lodged police complaints on 10 Dec 2008 about their phones being confiscated by force and being locked up illegally by repatriation companies [Picture right, click to enlarge]. Both men had their phones returned, but no charges appear to have been laid against either the repatriation companies (one of which is UTR) nor Xuyi for removing and holding the men against their will.
This was the last meeting I had with both Chen and Xue, as they rushed off shortly after to the ICA and called to say they were leaving that same night for China. Their flight was at midnight and worried calls were being exchanged till 11pm, when Xue finally confirmed they received their money. There was visible elation and relief in his voice as he told me they were about to board the plane. The following morning, I receive an sms from Chen, who’s back in China. Just last week, I called Chen, who’s back in Jiangsu, and in his usual cheerful voice, tells me he is fine. He also tells me that he is waiting to return to Singapore and has already paid up his first installment of SGD500 to an agent in Singapore and is waiting for further news.
As for Xue Han Ming, Liu Xiao Ping, Tian Su Yin and Yang Zhi Qiang, they returned to China a day earlier, on 11 Dec 2008. Three of them (Xue, Liu and Yang) settled their dispute the day before during negotiations at MOM, which took place individually. Each worker was taken aside and an offer was made. When the worker agreed, they had to sign a document testifying to this. They were not given copies of this document.
After the meeting, Yang revealed that his wife in China received a phone call from their labour agent, saying ‘your husband is causing trouble in Singapore’. Yang showed me an sms his wife sent, pleading with him to come home as soon as possible. This pressure made him accept half of what he was owed in unpaid wages and overtime pay and return home.
None of them got their full wages owed (generally, they accepted half in their settlements) but all were eager to be returning home after a harrowing few weeks. They also received much more than in earlier meetings, where amounts offered were generally less than $1000 (some workers who signed at the first MOM meeting on 11 Nov 08, attended by the larger group of 34, were offered a few hundred dollars.)
Tian, who refused to sign on 10 Dec 2008, was called back to the MOM on the morning of 11 Dec 2008. The MOM officer present at the meeting commented that the men were now ‘celebrities’, after appearing on Channel 8 and Channel U news the night before. [You can watch the newsclip here].
Apparently, the media coverage had not gone unnoticed – it seems the Chinese embassy had rung to tell the MOM ‘this matter must be settled today’. The MOM officer had also read Yawning Bread’s entry and was displeased with the portrayal.
The matter was, indeed, settled that very day. Tian eventually signed after being offered $3500 (he was owed $6941 in unpaid wages, unpaid overtime and recovery of unlawful deductions). The men commented how swiftly things moved in the last two days after all the media interest, a marked contrast to their earlier attempts to resolve their case. As talk turned to future plans, the men said they planned to return to Singapore after Chinese New Year. They said they would be more careful now which company they worked for, though it appears agency fees must still be paid.
As the arrangement was that outstanding monies was to be paid at the airport just before departure, the men were asked to report if they received the rightful amounts. Tian, who was scheduled to leave on an afternoon flight, said he would only ring if there was a problem. There was no call, so it is assumed the money was received. Xue, Yang and Liu left together on a night flight. Close to midnight, Liu called from the airport to confirm they received the money they were promised before boarding the plane. He said it was hard to find words to express how he felt, and said a heartfelt thank you.