Company steps in to cover arrears in pay dispute issue

The main contractor in charge of a nursing home project has come out to say that it has been paying its subcontractors on time, after one company, Audi Construction, claimed it could not pay its workers because it had not been paid.

Kian Hiap Construction managing director Pha Kian Seng said yesterday that the subcontractor had been paid more than $400,000 from August to November for work done in the Ang Mo Kio Nursing Home project.

"He could have used this to pay the workers," Mr Pha told The Straits Times in Mandarin. "The workers are his, we don't have the power to interfere with his company and make sure he's paid them."

Despite that, he said, the company has told the Manpower Ministry (MOM) it will cover the total amount of salary owed to the 43 workers registered to work at the site, which amounts to over $165,000.

Audi Construction director Xu Xi Bin had previously said he had not been able to pay his workers since September because he was owed money by the main contractor. MOM confirmed that 50 workers had lodged salary claims against Audi Construction.

Mr Xu said yesterday that while Kian Hiap had paid him over the past few months, it did not fully cover the $200,000 a month of work done. "I haven't received the payments for the workers' work in September, October and November," he said.

SUBCONTRACTOR WAS PAID $400,000

He could have used this to pay the workers. The workers are his, we don't have the power to interfere with his company and make sure he's paid them.

KIAN HIAP CONSTRUCTION MANAGING DIRECTOR PHA KIAN SENG, on Audi Construction's inability to pay its workers.

Mr Pha said that claims are evaluated by quantity surveyors before payments are made. "The valuation may not be the same as the claim, based on the actual work done and materials used," he said.

He showed The Straits Times a list compiled on Wednesday of acknowledgements by 19 subcontractors that Kian Hiap has been punctual in its payments.

Mr Alfred Lim, director of waterproofing specialist Goldfield Construction - one of the subcontractors for the project - said his firm has had no issues with the main contractor. His firm had deployed six workers to the site.

"We have been paid according to the contract," he said.

Mr Pha also said that the evaluation and payment process usually takes 35 days, so payment is usually for work done two months earlier. A cheque for September's work was meant to be issued to Mr Xu in the third week of November, but that is when MOM stepped in to say Audi's workers had not been paid.

After meeting the ministry's representative, Kian Hiap was asked to provide one month's salary since the workers' employer could not pay them.

Mr Pha said that the company is going beyond that requirement and has issued cheques to MOM to cover the full wages owed.

It has also lodged a police report aganist Audi for providing false information, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'Company steps in to cover arrears in pay dispute issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe