Elderly cleaning pair claim exploitation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2001, 12:00am

An elderly couple say they have been employed by government sub-contractors for the past two years without holidays or benefits.

The man, named only as Mr Ho, and his wife said they had each been paid $5,200 a month to clean two streets in Kowloon since March 1999. The couple claimed 30 or more colleagues in their district were employed under the same conditions.

They said a man named Mr Yu had hired them and given them uniforms for Baguio Cleansing Services, one of the biggest cleaning companies in Hong Kong.

Mr Ho, 73, said their only day off each year had been Lunar New Year's Day, when cleaning was suspended because of Chinese tradition.

His wife, 66, said they had tried to ask for holidays but were told they had to pay $170 for each day.

'I have been sick before but I still had to work,' she said.

The case comes less than nine months after the South China Morning Post reported the ordeal of a public toilet cleaner who worked 14 hours a day with no holidays for $7 an hour.

The Government says it has reformed the contracting process by forcing tenderers to state employment conditions in bids.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and labour officials have carried out joint operations in Kowloon to examine working conditions and assess the quality of cleaning services.

Figures released last week showed the workers' wages had increased to $5,200 a month but some were still $200 below the market rate.

The department said if an employer was found to have violated the Employment Ordinance, it would investigate and notify the Labour Department. 'If we got substantial evidence, we would follow up the case,' a spokesman said.

Under the Employment Ordinance, employees are entitled to one day off a week and 12 paid public holidays a year.

The spokesman said subcontracting would not be allowed without the department's approval. But no applications for approval had been received.

Baguio Cleansing Services denied its cleaning staff were unfairly treated.

'We comply with all government regulations and all cleansing staff only have to work 26 days a month,' a spokeswoman said.

She said the firm had never entrusted middlemen to hire workers on government contracts and that it was the usual practice to place recruitment advertisements in newspapers. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it was managing 153 private-sector contracts, worth a total of $1.18 billion a year.

A social worker with the Society for Community Organisation, Ng Wai-tung, said the case showed the department had failed to protect workers from exploitation.

'What worries us is that there will be 30,000 permanent and temporary jobs created by the Government. I think the situation will get even worse,' Mr Ng said.