Wed | Nov 21, 2018

Devon Dick | Are some Chinese companies not treating workers properly?

Published:Thursday | July 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Last week, I visited an inner-city community because I had to take home a skilled worker. As we entered the community, he said, "you need to come to the ghetto." I interpreted his comments about visiting the ghetto as a call for me to be more involved in the inner-city areas. It could also be a call to spend time understanding the problems and opportunities in those environs.

Of a fact, in the 1980s, when I was a theological student assigned to Denham Town Baptist Church, I was more aware and involved in the runnings of the inner city. So much so that after the 2010 Tivoli stand-off between forces loyal to the weapon trafficker Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, I visited 'Presidential Click' and spoke with police and residents and observed some of the damage. The skilled worker was correct. I need to be more involved.

Then, the skilled worker started to raise with me how Chinese companies are treating Jamaican workers. He bemoaned the long hours seven days a week - and salaries that are below the minimum. This is a perennial problem. And the skilled worker is knowledgeable about current affairs. For at least a decade, at every Master Builders Annual Dinner, in the presence of government ministers, Carvel Stewart, of construction and football fame, as well as others, would make similar complaints. Furthermore, some weeks ago, workers walked off the road-construction site claiming bad working conditions and less than agreed pay. What has happened since? Silence.

If the workers were not paid what was agreed upon by the Master builders and the unions, then they should get retroactive pay with interest! And pronto! I was told that the Ministry of Labour is aware of these breaches, and nothing has happened. Why are some required to work seven days a week with no overtime pay? How come there is no statement from the Chinese company about this matter? What does the silence mean?

 

SEVEN-DAY SHIFT

 

The skilled worker also lamented that the imported Chinese workers also have to work seven days a week. Is this real in Jamaica land we love? We should never countenance a company hiring foreign workers and ill-treating them. Someone remarked that the foreign Chinese workers, having their own housing and having to work seven days a week, do not have enough interaction and cultural exchange with Jamaicans. Since these large investments, has there been an increase in interracial unions involving Jamaicans and Chinese? Has the number of mixed-race babies increased since the influx of Chinese in Jamaica? Are ordinary Chinese workers being isolated from the Jamaican people? The seven-day week work must stop so that there can be sharing of ideas, playing together, worshipping together and general social interaction.

There is a code of silence and an air of secrecy, and no one wants to bell the cat. The Chinese have made massive investments in Jamaica, including the $600 million on the North-South Highway using engineering genius. However, the expenditure should not be recovered through unfair labour practices. Through the generosity of the Chinese government, many Jamaicans have gone to China to learn more about Chinese culture, technology, way of life and sports with the aim of having a better understanding and developing closer collaboration between Jamaica and China. This needs to happen in Jamaica also when the Chinese come here.

The people and government of Jamaica have a responsibility to inform the Chinese government of known unfair and unhealthy labour practices against employees by these state own Chinese companies.

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