More than 100 high-speed rail workers took part in a sit-in at the West Kowloon construction site on Monday to protest at their employers’ failure to pay wages owed to them. After negotiations, the workers agreed in the afternoon to be paid on Thursday and to return to work in the meantime.

The sit-in began at 8am on Monday morning at the high speed rail construction site at Hoi Wang Road, Oriental Daily reported. The wages concern the one-and-a-half month period starting from April 1 – meaning three 15-day payroll cycles as of the day of the protest – and amount to HK$7 million.

high speed construction workers
High speed-rail construction workers organise a sit-in.

According to the workers, the subcontractor was unable to pay them their wages because it in turn was awaiting payment for the construction project by the contractor, which is a Gammon-Leighton joint venture.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) said they had informed the Director of Highways and asked him to follow up. The HKCTU also sent members to discuss the matter with the contractor and representatives of the workers. Police were seen at the scene but the atmosphere was calm, Ming Pao reported.

high speed rail protest
Workers protesting at the site.

According to the construction industry union’s director Chan Pak-kan, the workers reflected the wage problem to subcontractors around 10 days ago and demanded to be paid, but so far there had only been more delays.

A 50-year-old carpentry worker surnamed Chung who took part in the protests said that he was unhappy at the long delay in payment of wages, stressing that he relied on them to make ends meet. Another two workers told Oriental Daily that the subcontractors had promised them the wages would be paid on Saturday, but had been unable to do so, and they hoped this sit-in would pressure them into paying up immediately.

The high speed rail site.
The high speed rail site. Photo:

HKCTU’s Frederick Fan told HKFP that following negotiations with the relevant parties, the workers’ demands had not been met, but they were able to reach an agreement at 3pm that the contractor would personally pay the workers all wages owed over the period of April 1 to May 15 in the form of cheques on Thursday. Meanwhile the workers would resume their work.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.