50 workers say firm owes at least 2 months' wages

Some of the workers who claim they are owed money by subcontractor Audi Construction. As of last night, 19 of its workers from China had received part of the money owed to them and had flown home.
Some of the workers who claim they are owed money by subcontractor Audi Construction. As of last night, 19 of its workers from China had received part of the money owed to them and had flown home.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

Manpower Ministry looking into pay claims against subcontractor

A total of 50 construction workers have reported to the Manpower Ministry that their employer owed them at least two months of wages.

A ministry spokesman said yesterday that the complaints made were against Audi Construction, a subcontractor specialising in building structures.

The ministry said it is looking into the pay claims and "investigating the company for possible offences under the Employment Act".

Audi was working on the Ang Mo Kio Nursing Home project for main contractor Kian Hiap Construction.

As of last night, 19 of its workers from China had received part of the money owed to them and had flown home.

One of them is Mr Zhao Sheng Wei. The 34-year-old told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Changi Airport that he was owed about $5,000 in wages for September through to last month.

"We had no money to eat, no money even to take the train to the ministry," he said.

After reporting to the ministry last month, he received $2,000. The ministry told him it was an insurance payout as his employer was unable to pay, he added.

Shin Min Daily News, a Chinese evening newspaper, had reported on Monday that 21 workers staying in a shophouse in Balestier said they were owed a total of $80,000 by their boss Xu Xi Bin.

The newspaper also said Mr Xu stopped paying them from September and cancelled their work permits without informing them.

The workers said that initially, they were each given a subsistence allowance of $200, but later were provided with only rice, potatoes and onions to eat.

Mr Xu told Shin Min he had no money to pay the workers as he has been owed money by main contractor Kian Hiap since September.

He said the workers had agreed to finish the project and then claim the salaries they were owed, but they later refused to work. He had no choice but to cancel their work permits, he told Shin Min.

When contacted yesterday, he declined to comment further.

A spokesman for Kian Hiap could not be reached for comment.

Mr Zhao said that although the money paid was not the full amount owed, he had no choice but to return home to his wife and four children in Shanxi province.

"We can't wait anymore. Many of us have wives and children to support," he said, adding that he would decide after the Chinese New Year celebrations whether to apply for another job in Singapore.

"I'm a bit worried that something like this will happen again, especially now that the economy is not so good," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline '50 workers say firm owes at least 2 months' wages'. Print Edition | Subscribe