Mainlanders 'regularly insulted as bumpkins'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2000, 12:00am

Mainlanders are routinely subjected to slurs and treated like 'unsophisticated country bumpkins' by local work colleagues, but are powerless to fight back, pressure groups demanding new laws said yesterday.

The activists said mainland workers were often underpaid, teased and accused of 'stealing' locals' jobs. But they had no legal right to complain because Hong Kong does not ban such discrimination.

Their comments came after the Post reported the case of a mainland woman who successfully sued her Hong Kong-based employer in London over slurs inflicted by her Cantonese-speaking colleagues. The woman, who was unfairly sacked from the British arm of the Phoenix Chinese TV company, was able to act because British law forbids racial discrimination. But, had she been in the same situation here, she would have been helpless.

Ravi Gidumal, director of the Indian Resources Group and a member of anti-racism alliance HARD, said many mainlanders in Hong Kong faced similar problems and needed legal protection.

'Certainly, this is not inconsistent with what we're seeing here. There's definitely a perception that these are unsophisticated country bumpkins from across the border,' he said. 'How do you address the problem? First and foremost you make it illegal. It doesn't stop there, you then need to educate, but you need to show people that it's wrong.'

Human Rights Monitor spokesman Ho Hei-wah said the situation was 'very, very bad' for mainlanders in Hong Kong because so many locals had the mistaken impression of new arrivals as being threats to their livelihood.

'They claim these people are uneducated, uncivilised and lazy,' he said, adding that mainland women working in restaurants complained that their colleagues told dirty jokes about them and insulted them to their faces.

Mr Ho said that mainland mothers had been hassled when they collected their children from school by local women who accused them of being a drain on social security.

Wong Shek-hung, a social worker with St James' Settlement, said mainlanders were sneered at by neighbours if they did not work, and were underpaid if they did. 'In the first place they have trouble getting a job, then they end up in low-paid, low-skilled jobs like cleaning or construction work,' she said. 'For example, for cleaning dishes, they get about $4,000 to $5,000 a month. But for the locals, it's $7,000 or $8,000 a month.'

Father Franco Mella, who works with mainlanders fighting for right of abode, said the Government exploited locals' 'superiority complex' over mainlanders and made the latter scapegoats for social problems. 'People think that if mainlanders come here they'll lose their jobs. They say 'you're making Hong Kong society worse, you're destroying stability',' he said.