JEDDAH: Sixteen Chinese workers on the light railway project in Makkah linking the holy sites were earmarked for deportation back to China after they led a protest for higher wages, not because they were not paid their basic salary for many months, the Chinese Consul General here told Saudi Gazette.
According to earlier reports, the police arrested the striking workers on Tuesday Oct. 12, and when questioned through an interpreter, the workers claimed that they had not been paid for many months. The police then spoke to the company’s financial manager, who pledged to pay the workers.
However, Wang Yong, the Chinese Consul General in Jeddah, disputed this version of the story. He said that the conflict between the company and workers was not because of the non-payment of the basic salary of the workers but over extra wages for working overtime and under extreme conditions. “It was an accident and in my opinion it will not happen again. It was just because of the changing in the time limit of the project, as the project must be finished next month and the company needs to meet their deadline,” he said.
“Workers have to work harder and under pressure. As far as I know the salary of the workers is much higher compared with normal Chinese workers in other companies. They were paid their basic salary. The conflict occurred [over] additional money for overtime and working in extreme hot temperatures, not about the basic salary,” he said.
Wang added that the majority of the 16 workers who went on strike have already been sent back home. A few are still in the Kingdom because their paperwork has not yet been sorted out. They will be deported very soon, said Wang.
Wang said most of the project has already been completed, with only some of the work left over. The first test of the railway project will take place at the beginning of November and the rail service will start on Nov. 14. The railway project is expected to operate at around a third of its capacity this year, transporting only domestic and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) pilgrims. The train will become fully operational in 2012.
Wang said he hoped the company will deal with problems in accordance with the law and the contract signed with the Saudi Arabian government. “I hope the workers will devote themselves to making a contribution to [developing] the bilateral ties between both countries, and the development of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
There are almost 30,000 Chinese workers in the Kingdom. There are about 10,000 in Makkah and around 1,000 in Jeddah.
Several hundred Chinese workers were brought in by a consortium led by China Railway Corporation for the planned multibillion riyal rapid transport system that will link Makkah with the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa.
There has been criticism of the carriages the consortium intends to use on the monorail but this has been rejected by the Chinese and the Saudi government.
The project will cover 18 kilometers and is designed to ease traffic during the city’s busiest times.
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