'Work hard' call ignored for 14 years

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 August, 1999, 12:00am

A KEY department failed to ask cleaning staff to work harder even though a study carried out 14 years ago indicated a productivity problem, it has emerged.

A Provisional Urban Council committee, which probed the case of night-shift sewer workers caught sleeping and playing cards this year, found the Urban Services Department failed to implement a recommendation suggested in a 1985 report.

A copy of the report has been seen by the Sunday Morning Post.

Members of an inquiry were angered by the findings and planned to condemn the department in a report to be released early next month.

The committee meets on Tuesday to finalise the report.

Committee member Wong Chung-ki said: 'There is also no evidence showing the department has submitted the internal report to the Urban Council for debate.

'I think the department has ignored the recommendation of the report.' The internal study by the department found the control of gully cleaning services 'very loose'.

'Low productivity is mainly attributable to poor supervision,' it said.

The study found workers on average only cleaned eight manholes a day, instead of the required 28.

The report said it was difficult to inspect the services as results of gully emptying were less obvious to the public and the quality of such work would only become apparent when flooding occurred.

The report recommended setting up inspection teams to monitor services. It said a foreman, responsible for checking services, could not perform full inspections as he could not lift heavy cast iron manhole covers on his own.

However, the Urban Services Department did not adopt the suggestion.

The department said it did not adopt recommendations because there had been considerable changes in the organisation of gully cleaning teams.

It said there was one foreman to take charge of a team of workers, and senior staff would conduct surprise checks to ensure standard of performance.

'This, the present system, is better than the one stated in the report,' it replied.

Meanwhile, the committee found the volume of refuse cleared had risen substantially after exposure of the night-shift workers' scandal.

Last year, the teams only transferred 0.32 tonnes of refuse a day, but they have collected an average of 1.45 tonnes a day this year after the incident was revealed.

The scandal was exposed in January when urban councillors, acting on a worker's tip-off, carried out a surprise check at the department's Mongkok depot.

But the worker, Law Pui-lam, was barred from testifying in an independent inquiry by Deputy Director of Urban Services Michael Arnold in April. He was finally allowed to give evidence in May after a public outcry.

He claimed the sewer workers only cleared drains once a week and pumped tap water into tanks to make up their daily quota.

The department then installed a computerised device on street-cleaning and drainage cleaning vehicles to monitor the service.

Mr Wong said the committee's report would also censure Mr Arnold.