Thursday, 15 October 2009
The above was the front page of yesterday's Trinidad Express, one of three daily national newspapers.
On Tuesday morning, there was an almighty pile up on the highway going from south to north. The traffic is always heavy on this road so anyone leaving home in south to be at work for 8.00am should leave by 5.00am. Three hours to cover approximately thirty five miles of highway! Of course, the alternative from San Fernando to Port of Spain, is the 'water taxi' but not a great many people trust that completely as it has only been in existence since the beginning of the year and has been known to konk out mid-ocean.
Tuesday morning. Announcements being made on local radio stations that the traffic was backed up for miles and it appeared that several buses and maxi taxis were parked on the hard shoulder. Their occupants had alighted and were sitting on the grass at the side of the highway. The occupants it appeared, were Chinese nationals. It was assumed that one of the vehicles had broken down. Not so! As events unfolded and the traffic was now backed up, bumper to bumper for the best part of twenty miles, it transpired that the workers were staging a 'sit in'. Now very strange things happen in Trinidad but I don't think that there has ever been a demonstration by imported workers. Traffic had come to a stand still not because of an accident but because Trinidadians are macocious (minding other peoples' business) and were stopping to gawk.
Yesterday's newspapers revealed that about eighty five Chinese nationals haven't been paid in months, are eating "dry bread", cannot speak a word of English and would rather return to the crowded streets of Fujian Province than stay to work as labourers in Trinidad. However, they want the money that they claim is owed to them before they leave. So what better way to bring their plight to the notice of the powers-that-be? Bring traffic on a major route to a standstill. I have no problem with the silent demonstration at all because I am aware of just how these people are being treated.
Naturally police (wearing riot gear!) were called to rein them in and escort them from the highway to the administrative branch of the Immigration Department in the capital. Once at Immigration the Chinese workers adamantly refused to be sent back to work and also refused to return to where they were being housed in Central Trinidad.
Some indicated by sign language that they were hungry and patted their pockets as if to illustrate that they were empty. Others took empty water bottles onto the Immigration compound, gesticulating that they were in need of water.
While most could only speak their native language, Mandarin Chinese, the few who did know some English told the media they had come here from the Fujian Province in China about 18 months ago "to make money for family", and were ready to go back home because they had not been paid for several months. They used sign language and gestures to show they were ready to "fly" and be on "a plane to China". They also showed a handwritten letter in English, explaining their plight and asking the Government to intervene, but could not say who had written the letter for them. One of the workers said they were each owed 30,000 yuan (approx USD3,666) for two months of work.
Many citizens who gathered in front the Immigration office expressed concern and sympathy for the men, many of whom they said "looked afraid".
"They have a unique job and they work hard and fast. Unlike most of us they are productive," said one local Chinese man who was passing by. The man said he was not affiliated with the workers in any way but had observed the conditions under which they live in Trinidad at various compounds and felt they were being treated unfairly.
After several hours an official came from the local Embassy of the People's Republic of China after which Embassy officials said they could not decide who was right in the dispute but were only present to ensure that the rights of all their nationals are protected. When the media tried to find out where the men were going for the night, one could only say in broken English, "We do not have idea." However, the group maintained they were not going back to work or to the compound where they are being housed.
This morning the Chinese workers are protesting their alleged mistreatment by Beijing Liujian Construction, the company contracted to work in Trinidad.
Can you imagine people wanting to return to a country that is not known in a positive light for its stance on human rights rather than remain in a so called Democracy?? These people are being made to live in containers - yes containers, with no proper facilities. Shower rooms and toilets are scarce making hygiene non-existent, cooking facilities are makeshift, sleeping arrangements are on the floors and rats think they have died and gone to heaven. Then the government which awarded the contract to the Chinese company expect these people to work eighteen hours a day. Where's the humanity in all this?
Slave trade is alive and well in Trinidad and don't ever let anyone tell you that the words "Massa Day Done" (Public Lecture at Woodford Square, 22 March 1961) said by the very late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, are true.
Give a man power and he will crucify his very own!