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Sit-down protest in the CBD: Workers demand unpaid salaries of close to S$300,000

SINGAPORE — A sidestreet at the Central Business District was the scene of a sit-down protest on Wednesday (March 6), as over 30 foreign workers gathered at a work site to demand answers from their employer over unpaid salaries.

Sit-down protest in the CBD: Workers demand unpaid salaries of close to S$300,000

Police officers were seen talking to over 30 foreign workers at the site of the old Central Provident Fund building. The workers demanded answers over their unpaid salaries.

SINGAPORE — A sidestreet at the Central Business District was the scene of a sit-down protest on Wednesday (March 6), as over 30 foreign workers gathered at a work site to demand answers from their employer over unpaid salaries.

The workers from Stargood Construction claimed that they were owed nearly S$300,000 in payment for their work, which was carried out on the site of the old Central Provident Fund building from December 2018 to February 2019.

Four police vehicles were spotted when TODAY visited the Maxwell Link site on Wednesday and the scene was calm, as uniformed officers were seen talking to the workers.

TODAY understands that the sit-down protest began on Monday morning, with the workers spending a few hours each day on-site.

Those involved in the protest claimed that 59 workers had not been paid and that more than half of them are from Bangladesh. The other workers are from China and India.

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Chinese national Ding Hang Hang, 53, who was part of the protest on Wednesday, claimed that he was owed about S$13,000 for three months of work. The foreman from Zhejiang earns an hourly rate of S$13.

The police confirmed that they had responded to a call at 9.46am and said that “the parties involved were advised accordingly”. No further police assistance was required.

CONFUSION OVER PAYMENT

Stargood Construction owner Lin Jie Biao, 33, admitted to TODAY that the workers’ claims were true. But he claimed that this was because the project’s main contractor Shimizu Corporation had not paid him for his company’s work since December last year.

“I’m so broke, I don’t even have S$50 in my pocket right now,” he said.

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Mr Lin said that his firm had continued with work on-site despite this as “delayed payments are the norm in the industry”. Stargood was a subcontractor hired to build and reinforce the foundation of the new project.

But he was “surprised” subsequently when Shimizu sent him a payment response document on Monday stating that Stargood had incurred a “back charge” of over S$700,000. According to documents seen by TODAY, these costs included third-party fees such as outsourcing for the assembly of materials, formwork prefabrication and administrative fees.

Mr Lin has disputed the costs as he claimed that he was overcharged and that it was “unreasonable” that he would be some S$500,000 in debt over the project.

A representative from Shimizu Corporation declined comment when TODAY contacted its on-site office on Wednesday. The firm’s project director Dino Jose Orino, who had liased with Stargood and had signed off on the payment response, also declined comment.

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The project at Robinson Road is owned by Southernwood Property, a subsidiary company of office solutions firm Ascendas Services. The site is expected to house a 29-storey office building and three-storey car park when completed by 2020.

“Every cent I have went into this project,” said Mr Lin, who claimed he had taken out personal loans from family and friends to make ends meet and to pay his workers to some extent.

He also claimed that the company’s financials were “healthy” before they embarked on this project in April last year.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the Ministry of Manpower(MOM) said that it is aware of the matter and that investigations are ongoing.

“The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management is assisting workers with their salary claims,” added its spokesperson.

Mr Lin told TODAY that he met with the MOM on Wednesday to provide his statement and TODAY understands that the affected workers will be meeting with the ministry’s representatives on March 18.

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