Emotional thanks from 71-year-old cleaner as Hong Kong rallies to save her from HK$1,500 fine
Shaken, sleep-deprived grandmother grateful for outpouring of public support after Food and Environmental Health Department officer’s ticketing
An emotionally drained Hong Kong cleaning employee whose fine for allegedly dumping waste water on a street on Monday elicited public outrage will have the amount covered by her employer, the Post has learned.
Yet 71-year-old Zhou Zhuan, working at Southorn Playground, told the Post she had lost her appetite and spent a sleepless night over her tearful encounter with a Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officer.
The officer on Monday issued Zhou a fine without any verbal warning, despite her claim the water was left over after she cleaned a bathroom at the playground and that it was not dirty.
The officer rebuffed her claim, and the incident, captured by a passer-by, went viral on the internet.
“I couldn’t eat or sleep well last night, but luckily they told me I wouldn’t have to pay the fine,” Zhou said of the plan by her employer Baguio Cleaning Services Company, the department’s contractor.
“I was scared I would have to pay HK$1,500 by myself,” Zhou said, adding it would be a hefty sum to bear as she earns HK$8,300 a month.
Internet users criticised the department as merciless in singling out a low-paid elderly person. Others, however, said she should have realised it was illegal to dump waster water in public.
Zhou, an eight-year employee of the company, said she had never before experienced such an incident and described it as one the most harrowing of her working life.
She added she would not dare to dump used water into a street drain in future and said she would flush it down the toilet instead.
A department spokesman said it was an offence to dump waste, including sewage, in a public place. The spokesman added the department would gather more information from the officer who fined Zhou to decide its next action.
A colleague of Zhou’s who declined to give her name said she could not understand why the officer was so rigid with the rules.
“Why are they bullying a grandmother in her 70s?” she asked. “They could’ve just told her not to do it next time.”
Zhou said she was given no verbal warning and summarily fined despite wanting to explain her action.
It remains unclear whether the department’s standard protocol entails giving verbal warnings before issuing fines. The Post has contacted the department for clarification.
Zhou is the sole breadwinner for her and her 73 year-old husband, who has been using a wheelchair for years due to poliomyelitis, an infectious disease that can cause paralysis.
Her son, Foo Yuen-wai, who also lives with poliomyelitis, won a bronze medal in sailing at the 2014 Asian Paralympic Games in South Korea. Foo received a Spirit of Hong Kong award last year.
Zhou was surprised and thankful for the public support after the incident.
“Thank you all for being so caring towards me,” she said with a smile. “I’m just glad this is all over.”