A report from In These Times tells of an incident that made news throughout Trinidad and Tobago this week after it was disclosed that a group of Chinese laborers had been working on the island in conditions akin to modern slavery. The workers, who had protested unsettled payments and abject housing had had their work permits revoked by their employer Tuesday, according to Newsday. Here are some excerpts from the report, which can be accessed through the link below:
The 150 Chinese nationals, contracted by Beijing Liujian, were sent from China 18 months ago to build two schools as part of a multi-million dollar contract from the T&T government. The workers claimed they were owed two months pay, lived in deplorable housing and wanted to return to their native China. The company denied the allegations and claimed the conflict stems from a “performance deposit” that the company pays upon completion of a contract.
. . .
But beyond the wage dispute, local officials and media who visited the camps in the town of Cunupia, in central Trinidad, were appalled by the inadequate living standards. The workers’ housing was registered as a warehouse and not designed for accommodation; a public health official who toured the camp found an unsanitary kitchen, without proper tiling and fly-proofing, inadequate sinks, and food placed on the ground due to lack of storage. The workers bathrooms were described as rows of “concrete latrines” and lacked private toilets and washrooms. Trinidad and Tobago’s Foreign Affairs Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon described the facilities as “below the standard of living.”
The fervor over the conflict sparked Bejing Liujian to employ security guards from Nigeria on Saturday, who were ordered to keep the laborers inside the camp and prohibit outsiders from entering. Charitable groups were blocked from distributing food and toiletries to the workers, and instead had to give the items over a concrete wall. Some guards reportedly shouted obscenities at former T & T government minister Manohar Ramsaran as he attempted to give food to the workers.
Despite all the national fervor, the government responses have been sluggish. The local government has voted to debate the issue, and the Labour Minister is investigating company documents and working with the company and the Chinese Embassy. The grassroots response has more sympathetic. Several local groups have called for a probe into all programs that use migrants; two of the biggest unions have expressed support for the workers; and one union has called for the camps’ closure. The Catholic Commission for Social Justice last week urged the Caribbean island to ensure that modern-day slavery is not occuring. “These laborers cannot be considered as a commodity or a mere work force,” the commission said in a statement, Forbes reported.
But the uproar has largely left unsettled answers about who is actually responsible. The Chinese embassy has been mediating matters, but also said they would not intervene in the business affairs of the company. The public has also criticised Trinidad and Tobago’s government for hiring the companies, and pressure has grown to enforce local labor laws and international regulations to which they are a signatory.
. . .
Newsday, a local paper, made an astute observation in an editorial: “There is somewhat of a sick irony in the use of imported Nigerian security guards to allegedly threaten imported Chinese workers, all a mere ten weeks after Trinidad and Tobago celebrated Emancipation Day.” The workers were left vulnerable by the absence of institutions to ensure their welfare, highlighting the necessity of resources and organizations to help navigate the delicate issues that arise when dealing with trans-national labor issues.
For the complete report go to http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/5069/imported_chinese_laborerss_work_conditions_shock_caribbean_nation/
Photo from Trinidad & Tobago Express