Workers ask for unpaid wages, expenses, and other missing payments
Architect RMJM’s Hong Kong studio is facing a legal claim from 15 current and former employees who allege they are owed £100,000 in unpaid wages and expenses.
The HK$1,216,810 (£98,855) claim, to be heard by Hong Kong’s Labour Tribunal next month, follows a previous fining of RMJM Hong Kong by the city-state’s Labour Department over late payment of wages last year, it has emerged.
RMJM - the world’s 13th largest architect and headed by chief executive Peter Morrison - has seen a raft of senior staff in Scotland, New York and Hong Kong leave the firm this year amid anger at its long-running failure to pay staff on time.
Hong Kong enforces a strict seven-day limit on payment of salaries and, if successful, the current claim could result in RMJM being ordered to pay the amount in full.
If RMJM refuses to comply with an order, the claimants could ask the court to enforce the judgment through measures including bailiffs seizing company goods and a petition for the firm to be placed in liquidation.
Wilful non-payment of salaries is a criminal offence in Hong Kong for which the penalties include the imprisonment of company directors.
A claim form understood to have been issued by the Labour Tribunal and seen by Building details individual claims ranging from HK$18,000 (£1,460) to HK$294,000 (£23,870} in missing payments including wages, expenses, severance and annual leave pay.
The employer has given assurances that payments would be made ‘soon’
In a statement, the 15-strong group behind the claim said RMJM Hong Kong had “a history of late payments over the last 18 months” with some as much as three months’ overdue.
“Some claimants are pregnant and/or have young families,” the statement continued.
“All claimants are suffering financial distress as a result of the neglect of the employer.
“On numerous occasions, the employer has given written, text message and verbal assurances that payments would be made ‘soon’ but has repeatedly failed to do so.”
A letter from the Labour Department’s prosecutions division, also seen by Building, showed that RMJM Hong Kong Ltd was convicted and fined an undisclosed amount in July last year over late payment of wages.
RMJM’s Hong Kong studio hit the headlines a year ago when former Asia principal Catherine Siu launched a public attack on Morrison and other senior management for their failure to pay staff and subcontractors on time.
A spokesman for RMJM said: “We’re confident these issues will be resolved quickly. It’s a matter of profound regret when salaries are not paid on time but we take all possible steps to keep such delays to an absolute minimum.”
Postscript: US university ditches RMJM
A US university has terminated its contract with RMJM because of concerns over the architect’s finances and the number of people leaving.
Building’s sister title BD reports that RMJM had been designing a sports college and health building for West Virginia University as part of a wider $200 million scheme.
But this week the university’s associate general counsel Rossi Wiles confirmed it was no longer working with the firm, and is looking for a replacement.
“We terminated our contractual relationship with them two weeks ago,” said Wiles.
He declined to go into detail but admitted that RMJM’s failure to pay staff on time and the numbers leaving the firm “have had a bearing on the decision”.