It's not tough at all, toilet cleaner, 77, says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 2010, 12:00am

Li Ping-kit is a 77-year-old with a ready smile despite the fact she has little to smile about and lives a life few can begin to imagine.

Li lives in an 80 square foot cubicle with a monthly rent of HK$1,100 in an old tenement building in Yau Ma Tei.

She works 5pm to 11pm a day, 26 days a month, as a cleaning worker at a public toilet a 10-minute walk away.

She receives a monthly pay cheque of HK$3,366 from the job at which she has toiled for 12 years. It is her only source of income.

Despite such adverse conditions, Li, who likes to be called Granny Li, does not complain.

'I do not think it is tough at all. The job only requires me to clean the toilet and change the toilet paper,' she said. 'Many of my friends, especially those who are of similar age to me, say how lucky I am that I can still have a job. They say they want to have one but no one is willing to hire them.'

Li came to Hong Kong 12 years ago to fulfil her dream of reuniting with her husband who she married 58 years ago.

But the reunion dream was shortlived, with the couple separating after living together in the city for just six months.

'I have worked in almost every public toilet in this area. In the past, my wage was even lower - about HK$2,500 a month,' Li said.

Mandy Li Kim- man, chief executive of the Cleaning Service Industry Workers Union of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said there were many similar stories to Granny Li's.

'Many cleaning workers in Hong Kong are old people who are migrants from the mainland. Since they have a poor education background with low skills, they do not have many choices for jobs.

There is no government data on the number of toilet cleaning workers. The union estimates the number of cleaners, including general and toilet cleaners, is about 160,000.

Mandy Li said these workers lived monotonous lives. 'Working six days a week and with such a tiny salary, it is difficult for them to have the luxury of thinking about entertainment.'

With Granny Li keeping a close eye on every dollar, her biggest treat is the phone calls or visits from her two sons and a daughter, aged between 45 and 58, who live on the mainland.

'My elder son will be visiting me in two weeks,' she said, pointing to an upper bunk bed loaded with her personal belongings, when asked where her son would stay.

Her three children work on the mainland as restaurant workers, and cannot afford to support their mother as they each earn only a few hundred yuan a month. 'We will talk over the phone once or twice every 10 days ... the phone bill is expensive,' Granny Li said.

But despite the fact that she loves her job, she will have to give it up in three months' time. 'My contract will end by then. This time it cannot be renewed any more due to my age. I can only rely on the dole afterwards.'