| 24 July 2024, Wednesday |

Unpaid workers, silent sites: China’s property woes hit Country Garden

Construction has slowed to a monotonous whirr at an unfinished Country Garden (2007.HK) residential complex on the outskirts of the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, and a few bored employees stroll an almost empty site.

“They haven’t paid us since January’s Chinese New Year.” “We’re all worried,” said Wang, a 50-year-old laborer who said he had stopped working at the Yunhe Shangyuan site last week.

The enormous facility is one of two projects seen by Reuters on Friday in Tianjin, a 14-million-person port city about 135 kilometers (84 miles) southeast of Beijing. Both sites are operated by Country Garden, China’s largest developer by sales volume prior to this year, which is currently enmeshed in a debt crisis that threatens to spill over into the wider economy.

Construction had partially or fully stopped at both sites – the larger one with a few rows of unfinished five-storey apartment blocks and the other with lifeless cranes and thick green scaffolding hanging over skeletal high-rises. Workers at dorms on the sites complained of months without pay.

“I’m under a lot of pressure,” said a worker at the Yunhe Shangyuan site surnamed Wei, also in his 50s, who added that he had only received a one-off living stipend of 4,500 yuan ($618) so far this year.

“I have a wife and kid who’s about to return to school, as well as elderly parents … Workers can’t live on this.”

Once considered one of the more financially sound developers, Country Garden is now a bellwether of how the cycle has turned for developers.

Its financial woes have added to the debt crisis in China’s real estate sector, which accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s second-largest economy, currently losing steam amid a housing slump and weak consumer spending.

A representative of Country Garden’s Yunhe Shangyuan project said in a Wechat statement its “registered employees” were all being paid.

At the Yunjing Huating site, the government in June ordered construction to be suspended to fix management problems, a project representative told Reuters in a separate statement. It has since passed inspection and work is expected to resume next week, the person said, adding the suspension would have no impact on the targeted completion date of October 2024.

Some workers are not employed directly by the developer, the Yunjing Huating representative said, but by its contractor, which “has promised to pay the workers’ wages by the end of this month”.

The project contractor, Shenyang Tengyue Construction, did not pick up calls from Reuters or respond to emails seeking comment.

The housing ministry did not comment on Reuters queries about halting of construction in the property sector in general or Country Garden in particular.

  • Reuters