Mother's struggle to survive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 1995, 12:00am

UNEMPLOYMENT has forced former garment worker Lam Yin-mee to lie to her family and sell her jewellery in what has become a daily struggle to survive.

Ms Lam, 49, lost her $3,000-a-month job as a sewing-machine operator after a gall bladder operation three months ago and has been unable to get another job. 'All I am asking for is work as a cleaner or a bakery sales job for $5,000. Am I asking for too much?' Ms Lam, whose husband left her 16 years ago, says she has always managed with her Primary Three education and cannot understand trends towards hiring high school-educated people for unskilled positions.

'I had an interview for a dishwashing job. The boss asked me if I could speak English and had a Form Five education,' she said.

'I don't understand why English and education are needed for the position.' Ms Lam is one of thousands of former garment industry workers whose skills are no longer needed after their factories moved across the border. Latest official jobless statistics show about 84,600 people - 2.9 per cent of the workforce - are unemployed.

Apart from checking classified listings and notices offering employment, Ms Lam has signed up with the Labour Department's job-matching programme designed to put unemployed people older than 30 back into the labour market.

Ms Lam, a stocky, talkative woman, is typical of many women her age.

She came from a modest family. Her father was a chicken slaughterer who earned $300 a month at a Yau Ma Tei market and her mother raised five children.

But, as the eldest child, Ms Lam was forced to work at 11 years old, when her father died.

Her only daughter, 23, a tourist clerk who earns $6,000 a month, is her sole companion in their Sha Tin public housing flat and is the breadwinner.

Last month Ms Lam sold her jewellery for $5,200, including a bracelet, two necklaces and two pieces of jade.

'My daughter knows we are running out of money, but I keep lying to her that we have enough money to survive.' LAM YIN-MEE'S HUNT FOR A JOB MONDAY, JUNE 5 IN the morning, I phone the Labour Department and demand a job interview. I tell the officer responsible for my job-matching programme I need a job desperately. If they fail to find me a job, I will starve to death or go on welfare. The officer promises to see me tomorrow. I have only $1,500 to live on for the rest of the month. In the afternoon I go to Kwong Wah Hospital for a medical examination on my gall bladder and breast tumour. Although my doctor does not say anything about my tumour, he refers me to a breast specialist who I must see in two weeks. I start to worry about my health.

TUESDAY, JUNE 6 I go to Tsim Sha Tsui to help a worker make a claim in the morning. I hope she gets her $8,000 compensation. I return to the New Territories for my Labour Department appointment in the afternoon. The officer tells me I have an interview tomorrow for a vacancy as a cleaner in a Tsim Sha Tsui fashion boutique for $5,000 a month. I thank him. I watch the TV news as I have dinner. It says the Governor has organised an employment summit. I don't think the meeting will help us until the Government stops its labour-importing programme.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7 I get up very early for the fashion boutique interview, excited about the job. When I get there at 11 am, the boss says the job also requires me to move big boxes along a narrow stairwell. I am stunned to discover the job involves moving heavy boxes. I don't think I can do it. Before I leave I tell the boutique owner she lied to me. I am depressed.

I go to my sister's watch shop in Castle Peak Road to deliver Chinese rice dumplings to her workers. I am angry about a night news programme which says the Labour Department has allocated 400 jobs to summer students. The waitressing jobs that went to the students should have been given to us.

THURSDAY, JUNE 8 I have a good morning. I ring up an RTHK phone-in show and respond to a Wan Chai restaurant owner who says local workers are too lazy.

The owner claims she cannot find a local worker to accept her offer of a dish-washer's job, which pays up to $8,000 a month and is open to people older than 60. I tell them what happened to me yesterday, that I was asked to work as a cleaner but the boss wanted me to do a mover's job as well. I feel happier after getting that off my chest. I spend the rest of the afternoon in a meeting with Housing Department officers discussing attacks on young boys in our estate.

FRIDAY, JUNE 9 I ride on my bike before going to work at my sister's watch shop. My sister has given me only $1,000 for occasional help during the past three months, but sitting in her shop is better than sitting at home. My daughter has a date and I have to eat at home alone. I finish leftovers from last night. I go to bed early.

SATURDAY, JUNE 10 I give evidence to police about attacks on the boys in my estate. I cannot believe it takes 11/2 hours. Afterwards, I take soup I have made to a relative. I spend the afternoon in bed. I look forward to next week so I can start my job hunt again.