Two workers from China have been charged for criminal trespass after they climbed atop a crane to protest what they said was a case of salary non-payment. The Ministry of Manpower was quick to deny that they were owed any salaries and the men were arrested as soon as they were persuaded to climb down.

Zhu Guilei and Wu Xiaolin climbed and stayed on the 10-storey high crane at Jurong Port Road for about nine hours on Thursday 6 December 2012. According to Today, they had earlier

. . . gone to the Ministry of Manpower on Wednesday and said they were owed salaries by their employer, Zhong Jiang (Singapore) International, whose parent company is a China state-owned construction firm. However, they did not have the necessary documents to support their claims and MOM officers asked them to return with the documents for investigation. They had agreed to do so, an MOM spokesperson said.

— Today, 7 December 2012, Two workers protest on crane over wage dispute, by Louisa Tang

The very next day, Acting Manpower Minister wrote on his Facebook page that the workers were not owed any salaries. He did not explain how this definitive conclusion was reached with hardly any time for investigation.

As it turned out, they did not have any salary arrears.

These workers knew their way around. In fact, Zhu had come to MOM in July 2011 to enquire about how he and his friend could resign and return home. Recently, the two of them came to MOM on 5 Dec to highlight that they were owed salaries. To help us investigate, we asked that they come back with their documents. They never did and ended up on the crane.

Our officers asked one of them why they did not come back. One of the workers shared that going to MOM to lodge their claims was “troublesome”.

Workers facing employment issues should approach MOM for advice and assistance. MOM requires documentation from the workers in order to substantiate their claims so that MOM can handle the dispute fairly.

— Facebook page of Tan Chuan-jin, posting dated 8 December 2012

In a comment below the minister’s post, Facebook reader Jake Tan wrote:

In colonial times, there was the Chinese Protectorate to look after the rights of migrant workers from China. If MOM’s role is just to wait for documents, is our protection of migrant workers worse than colonial times?

The Straits Times reported (Crane protest pair to be bailed out,13 December 2012, by Khushwant Singh) that migrant worker group HOME will be putting up bail money of $10,000 each for the two workers. Lawyer Ravinderpal Singh has stepped up to represent them pro-bono and they are claiming trial to the charges.

Last July, a Chinese national was jailed five weeks for criminal trespass after climbing up a crane to protest a pay dispute.