Hawkers protest at harsh treatment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 February, 2012, 12:00am


Fa Yuen Street's hawkers are finding it hard to make ends meet.

Some say business on the Mong Kok market street is down 70 per cent after they were forced to miss the peak trading period to carry out renovations in line with government rules after a deadly fire in November.

More than 30 traders and their supporters gathered for a 'hawker day' yesterday in an attempt to raise interest in the cultural and historical importance of the industry.

They also urged the government to reform outdated regulations on the trade that were created 40 years ago.

'Hawkers play an important role in the community. This is where the less privileged shop and trade. Not everyone can afford to buy things at the fancy malls,' said Abraham Lai Ka-chun, of the Central and Western Concern Group. 'We're here to support the Fa Yuen Street hawkers because it's unfair that they are taking all the blame for the fire.'

The Fa Yuen Street blaze was the city's deadliest in 15 years. Nine people died and 34 were injured. Yet many hawkers are unhappy about the government's negative attitude towards them since the fire.

Two weeks after the blaze, the government released a document proposing strict measures to regulate hawking, including a new system to revoke licences - before police determined the fire's cause. An electrical fault was eventually found to have started the blaze, possibly because of overloading.

'It's like they wanted to blame everything on us. I really want to say that it's not our fault - we did not kill those people,' said Fong Kam-mei, who helps her husband with his stall selling children's clothing.

She said the government should investigate the problem of subdivided flats and derelict buildings on the street as possible reasons for the tragedy.

'Business has dropped by 70 per cent. It's low season now. Many of us missed the holidays to comply with government rules - that's when we usually earn the most,' Fong said.

Sock seller Chan Ka-wing said: 'We are all trying to make ends meet, but the new measures are making it hard for us. The small spaces mean we cannot give customers as much variety... we're just trying to eke out a living here. It seems the government won't even let us do that.'

Chan Kong-chiu, 60, has been trading on Fa Yuen Street since the late 1970s. He is a licensed stall helper, selling gloves and clothes. 'This trade has helped a lot of less educated people like myself to make a living and feed our families,' he said.