Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Work at new AIT site on hold as dispute continues

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporter

Construction workers from three Taiwanese subcontractors engaged in building the American Institute in Taiwan’s (AIT) new compound in Taipei’s Neihu District protest outside the AIT’s office in Taipei’s Daan District yesterday.

Photo: Chang Chia-ming, Taipei Times

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) yesterday remained steadfast over what it said was a “contractual dispute” between a US company and three Taiwanese subcontractors engaged in building its new office compound in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖), but said it would to continue to engage with the US general contractor to address the issue.

Representatives of the subcontractors to US-based Weston Solutions yesterday presented a petition to the AIT seeking a provision of financial relief from the US Department of State because defaults by the general contractor had affected their revenues.

Wei Chuan Arch Contracting Co, Cherng-Her Construction Co and Area Energy said Weston Solutions owed them more than NT$470 million (US$15.9 million) dating back to September 2011.

Gathering at the AIT’s Taipei office on Xinyi Road, about 100 workers, some of whom are owed more than two months’ wages, said that the institute is “duty-bound” to help resolve the issue.

Workers wore overalls, reflective vests and helmets, despite work at the construction site having been suspended since late last month because of the payment dispute.

“Give me my salary. I have to survive. The AIT, step forward,” the workers shouted, holding banners and “anti-bullying” placards.

Area Energy vice general manager Chuang Kuo-chang (莊國昌) said that Weston Solutions has missed payments since July 2011, adding that the debts owed to the company have reached NT$230 million.

Weston Solutions’ failure to pay has affected not only the firm’s 50 workers seconded to the AIT project in Neihu, but also the entire company, which has 400 staff, Chuang said.

“Complicated by the fact that the banks always furl their umbrellas on rainy days, the company is now facing a cash squeeze,” he added.

A Wei Chuan Arch employee said he has not been paid in two months.

Wei Chuan Arch representative Tu Chung-jen (涂崇仁) said the firm hoped the US Department of State could provide it with at least half of the amount of debt to allow construction on the site to resume.

Tu said about 160 workers hired by the subcontractors had quit, were laid off or have been put on unpaid leave, while companies have pulled machinery and equipment off site, forcing a complete work stoppage.

AIT spokesperson Mark Zimmer received the petition letter.

Tu told Zimmer that they were appealing to the AIT for help over the “unfair treatment” they have endured so that justice can be done.

Later, in a telephone interview with reporters, Zimmer said that the AIT would convey the letter to the appropriate authorities in Washington.

“The AIT is extremely concerned by the matter and is aware of the firms’ frustrations,” he said.

The US Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has been in contact with Weston Solutions to tell them that they need to adhere to their contract and fulfill obligations to Taiwanese subcontractors, he said.

Asked to respond to the request for financial relief, Zimmer declined to comment on the “hypothetical scenario.”

“At this point, we are looking at the best way to handle it [the dispute], but in the meantime, it’s still a dispute with Weston. I cannot speak about hypothetical solutions at this point,” he said.

Zimmer did not provide a timeline to assess the subcontractors’ request and reiterated that the issue, at this time, “is still a contract dispute.”

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