At a crucial time when the country faces serious shortages in workers across several industries, it is important that we talk about employers who are doing their utmost best in terms of employment conditions, wage rates and general welfare of local workers.
One such company is China Railway No 5 Engineering Group where I work as a zone manager, a role bestowed on a local for the first time in the company’s history. So I must fittingly shed more light.
China Railway No 5 Engineering Group, more commonly known as CR5G or CR5 in short, employs hundreds of locals as senior managers, mid-level managers and assistant managers, engineers, inspectors, supervisors, laboratory managers and technicians, traffic and safety officers, leading hands, heavy goods drivers and mechanics, stores officers, fleet officers, finance officers, works claims officers, general drivers and skilled (carpenters, welders, etc) and unskilled workers.
CR5, since its establishment in Fiji over 16 years ago, has found its place in the Fijian community, in the Fijian civil engineering sector and has now become an unmistakable presence in the local economy, silently helping to drive the economy with the constant employment of our people, subsequently ensuring a steady income and cash flow in hundreds of homes.
CR5 has completed several major infrastructure projects in Fiji and has employed thousands of locals.
A few capital projects are nearing completion while the Central Road Maintenance project is ongoing with about 300 workers in full-time employment at the different work zones including Suva, Rewa, Korovou, Naqali, and Navua.
Hundreds more are connected to the company through various suppliers and subcontractors. CR5 is essentially a fully localised company as the ratio of Chinese workers to local workers is about 1:10. In terms of CR5’s quality work delivery, the results cannot possibly be hidden from public view as one drives from the West towards Suva.
Those high-quality new seals along the Coral Coast are a pleasure to drive on and the company is only motivated to overhaul Fiji’s entire road network, both sealed and unsealed.
The keys to achieving success are simply keeping costs sustainable levels, staying competitive in pricing in the market, intensive quality control, maintaining excellent stakeholder relations, and most importantly, recognising and valuing local human resources.
CR5 is an equal opportunity employer, and this is evident in the roles played at the depots by female works supervisors, road inspectors, claims officers, the HR team, and the claims team. Walking the talk is seen as the normal thing to do.
Empowering local employees gets the work done. Simply, there are no ceremonial roles or positions at the company. Everyone has some level of discretion to make suggestions, opinionate, and put plans into action. I am not saying that all goes smoothly and fine without trouble.
More akin to a smooth-running SUV, which is aesthetically satisfying and gives a comfortable ride to the passenger, but under the hood, there are all sorts of parts working in harmony, and inside the engine, there is fire, and the engine is cooled by water!
Like most organisations, the various arguments, confrontations, quarrels, disagreements, even warning letters, and occasional terminations all contribute towards achieving the end result: satisfaction to the road users and yes, the passengers of those automobiles running on the roads maintained by the team!
Training and up-skilling are provided to workers as and when necessary. Recently, we had a group of workers, from all the zones who underwent a two-week chainsaw training with the Ministry of Forestry.
These workers now have proper licenses to prune trees along the road networks and this contributes immensely towards the general safety of the crews and the public as they carry out routine and emergency pruning exercises.
The daily toolbox is the most basic of training that all workers undergo each morning before setting off to their respective work sites.
Monthly OHS training for leading hands and supervisors ensures continuity of compliance. OHS Modules 1 and 2 trainings have been provided to all leading hands across all zones with management personnel being part of it.
First Aid training is provided to zone representatives and management every three years. Upcoming trainings encompass a wide range of areas for all zones for traffic controllers.
New recruits undergo OHS induction to NZTA/ TNZ specification. Therefore, we can safely say the public is in safe hands.
The company has largely been quite generous to all its workers despite coming up against financial constraints earlier this year.
Because of budgetary reasons, CR5 management was forced to reduce its workforce according to the readjusted budget and hence some workers were given hefty redundancy packages.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of people, especially the senior management who had somehow managed to keep everyone on full pay despite allocating work for two or three days a week to workers as per reduced budget.
Most of those workers have been absorbed back into employment recently after the partial reinstatement of the monthly budgets.
The company hopes to receive more work and an increased budget so that the workforce can be returned to 2022 levels. However, under the current circumstances, CR5 senior management, led by the very able and charismatic Mr Charles Jin, keeps reiterating to the team that we must work with what we have and to the best of our abilities.
From the outside, CR5 is a Chinese company. It is, but from the inside, it is the locals that hold vital responsibilities.
A vibrant team mixed with Chinese managers, local managers and assistants, local supervisors, and everyone else, drives the work forward. There is no lack of communication, and everyone is always mostly on the same page.
All supervisors, technicians, managers, and inspectors are permitted to communicate directly with the Fiji Roads Authority managers and officers through various platforms, mostly Viber working groups.
During the recent TC Mal, we had all guns blazing as the entire team was on its toes as were the FRA officers, planning for TC Mal and having emergency backup plans in place. The preparation was so thorough that now we almost have the necessary blueprint for the next TC that may come.
With the right mind-set, anyone will find this company a great place to work. However, the place is definitely not for the fainthearted as the pressure to deliver on time is not everyone’s cup of tea!
• DONALD SINGH is China Railway No 5 manager Navua zone and previously the manager Suva zone. The views expressed in this article is the author’s and does not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.