61 Chinese workers return after dispute

Updated: 2013-07-08 07:13

By Zhou Huiying in Suihua, Heilongjiang and Wang Xiaodong in Beijing (China Daily)

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Employees of Russian company say they did not receive promised wages

All 61 workers who hid on a mountain in southern Russia for more than two days after a employment dispute have been properly settled.

The construction company that employs them is cooperating with government officials from China and diplomats from the Chinese embassy in Russia to investigate the dispute, an employee at the construction company who gave her name as Zhou told China Daily on Sunday.

The workers were transferred from the mountain in Kemerovo and properly settled on Friday after efforts from government departments of Heilongjiang province and the Chinese embassy in Russia, People's Daily quoted the local publicity department as saying on Sunday.

The workers are staying at a local church and are in good condition, and efforts are under way to send them back to China, according to media reports.

The incident attracted public attention after an online post said that about 200 migrant workers from Suihua, in Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia, were abused at a construction project in Russia and did not receive the wages they were promised. They also feared for their safety and were forced to flee to the mountain to seek refuge, it said.

Online photos showed workers wearing thick clothes and sitting on mud in a forest.

Authorities have not confirmed the reason the workers fled, but family members in Xichangfa township, Suihua, said they did not receive the salaries they were promised.

Wang Xibo, 63, of Dongbeiyi village, in Xichangfa township, said his nephew, Zhang Wanchun, was one of the workers who was trapped in Russia.

Wang said Zhang, a carpenter, went to Russia in April for work at the suggestion of a construction contractor in the province's Hegang.

"The contractor promised Zhang that he could earn 20,000 yuan a month ($3,200), and some of Zhang's relatives also followed him to Russia," Wang said. "But nearly three months have passed, and they haven't got any pay."

However, Zhou, the employee of the construction company in Kemerovo, said Zhang, a technician for the project, is to blame for the substandard quality of the project.

"The online post and some media reports are not true," Zhou said.

"Quality problems have kept appearing with the construction of the two buildings," she said. "Before construction on the basements of the buildings was completed, we found cracks in the wall and some pillars were displaced," she said. "So we had to suspend the work for eight or nine days so the supervisor could check and verify whether the construction could proceed."

"We suspect Zhang was afraid he might be forced to take responsibility for quality problems, so he incited workers to protest," she said.

Zhang, Heilongjiang's Foreign Affairs Office and the Chinese Embassy in Russia could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Zhou denied the workers received insufficient pay or were denied freedoms, but families of the workers disagreed.

A woman in Dongbeiyi said her 22-year-old son, surnamed Xu, was working on the project but she had been unable to contact him and was very worried.

"I heard that after they arrived in Russia their passports and cellphones were taken away by the project contractor, and only a few of them who hid their phones managed to call their families," she said.

She said her son was promised a monthly salary of 12,000 yuan, but after he arrived in Russia he was told he would only get 9,000 yuan a month. He received just 5,000 yuan for three months of work because the project contractor said the work was substandard.

"I have heard they have been transferred to a safe place, and I feel a little relieved," she said. "I don't care much about the loss of pay as long as my son is safe. I hope he can return as soon as possible, and I will never allow him to go abroad or go to places far away from home to work."

Contact the writers at zhouhuiying@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily USA 07/08/2013 page5)