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More than 100 construction workers from China gathered outside Singapore’s manpower ministry Monday to complain about unpaid wages and cancellation of their work permits, witnesses said.
The workers sat for about two hours at the steps of the ministry, at a busy intersection near the Chinatown district, and shouted at ministry officials and police officers to air their grievances.
There was no violence, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
At one point, police warned the workers to disperse within five minutes or face arrest. They left but regrouped across a road from the ministry, and voluntarily dispersed about an hour later.
Workers interviewed by AFP said they had not been paid their wages after their Chinese “boss” absconded with the money. They also complained that their work permits had been cancelled without warning.
Comment from the manpower ministry on the workers’ complaints was not immediately available.
Some of the workers told officials that they had not committed any crime and could not be arrested, but police told them they were illegally trespassing on government property.
“The government should punish the company, not punish us by cancelling our permits. We just want our compensation so we can go back to China,” construction worker Zhou Qing Ren, 40, told AFP.
“We have got no money to eat now and no proper place to stay,” another worker shouted.
Singapore is tightening its rules on outdoor protests as it prepares to host its largest international summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ forum, in November.
Analysts said the laws against outdoor protests can also be applied to deal with any outbreaks of public frustration amid the city-state’s worst recession in more than 40 years.
An estimated one million foreigners live in Singapore, representing more than 20 percent of the total population, which is predominantly ethnic Chinese.