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Design Execs Fined for Unpaid Wages

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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Two directors of a global design firm have been found guilty and fined thousands of dollars for failing to pay workers in Hong Kong, authorities say.

Peter Morrison and Declan Thompson, of the UK-based architecture firm RMJM Group, have each been fined approximately HK$93,000 ($12,000 USD) for wage offenses and defaults on previous awards ordered by the Labour Tribunal, the Hong Kong Government announced Friday (Sept. 25).

The directors were also ordered to pay outstanding wages payments, including termination payments, and tribunal-awarded sums to employees, according to the release. The total amount owed is around HK$1.5 million ($193,544 USD), authorities said.

Hong Kong
©iStock.com / TwilightShow

Authorities in Hong Kong have found leaders of the Edinburgh, Scotland-based architecture firm RMJM guilty of wage offenses.

Morrison and Thompson were convicted for their “consent, connivance or neglect in the wage offences and defaulting on payment of the Labour Tribunal award,” the release said.

Morrison is the firm's CEO. Thompson serves as the RMJM Group Commercial Director. RMJM's work includes the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boatlift in Scotland; the China National Convention Centre in Bejing; and the University Medical Center in Princeton, NJ.

Four Years in Wage Dispute

The ruling closes the book on a wage dispute dating back to July 2011.

In the wake of the global recession, the firm had financial problems, according to The Scotsman. Rapid expansion, especially in Hong Kong, "where the firm was buoyed by major contract wins," resulted in cash flow issues.

Employees and former employees of the firm, including principal architect Catherine Siu, lodged official complaints for unpaid wages with Hong Kong’s Labour Department. Specifically, former staff of the Hong Kong studio claimed the firm owed them $357,816 in unpaid wages, Architects Journal reported.

The Labour Department then launched criminal proceedings against Morrison and Thompson. They faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison in the case.

Sending a Strong Message

One of the former unpaid workers who testified in the case told the Architects Journal that she was pleased the criminal court found the directors guilty.

“However, the sentence and fine don’t reflect the seriousness of the crimes they committed nor retribute the damage done to over 30 employees,” said Liliana Silva, the former marketing director for RMJM Hong Kong.

Falkirk Wheel
©iStock.com / Canonite

RMJM's design work includes the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boatlift in Scotland.

In a statement issued with the ruling, the Labour Department said it seeks to “disseminate a strong message to all company directors and responsible persons that they have to ensure that wages are paid to employees in accordance with the Employment Ordinance and that an award is paid according to the terms of the award issued by the Labour Tribunal or the Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board.”

No Appeal

In responding to the judgment, Morrison told Architects Journal that the situation “arose as a consequence of the impact of the global recession, which the company sought to weather in the best interest of all stakeholders, including the employees, rather than simply allowing the company to fold, leaving the workforce without jobs.

“We have previously made clear to the Department of Labour our intention to pay outstanding salaries and arrangements are being made to pay the penalties.

“We are pleased to that this brings the matter to a close. There is no intention to appeal.”

   

Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Business conditions; Business matters; Designers; Good Technical Practice; Labor; North America; Workers

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