Five shoe polishers who have worked in Theatre Lane and Murray Road in Central for decades but are facing eviction may receive hawker licences after lawmakers stepped into the controversy.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said last night that it would keep an open mind on the issue. The department had a licence category named bootblack under the hawking rules, but nobody was holding such a permit, it said.
Legislators helping the shoe polishers are urging the government to issue such licences. A political party plans to protest against the eviction by organising dozens of clients to polish their shoes on Thursday.
Officers warned four of the shoe polishers, working in Theatre Lane, during an illegal-hawking operation last month because 'the tools they used for shoe polishing are obstructing the road'. The action had originally targeted people setting up banners tied to railings in the area. The fifth shoe polisher, working on the footbridge in Murray Road, was prosecuted last month for obstruction and operating without a licence.
Yeung Siu-ying, 73, who has worked in Theatre Lane for 10 years, said they were prosecuted twice four years ago, when they were fined HK$800 and HK$1,000.
Mr Yeung said he received no penalty ticket in the latest operation and all of them only had their personal details jotted down by officers.
Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee expressed outrage at the department's recent actions and called on people working in Central to shine their shoes in Theatre Lane on Thursday during lunch to show their support.
Ms Eu has sent two letters to Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok, hoping he could consider issuing licences to the shoe polishers. She has received only a letter of acknowledgement so far.
'They are not obstructing the street at all and are working to make their own living,' she said. 'Why does the department have to prosecute them? What for?'
Wong Kwok-hing, a unionist lawmaker on the Legislative Council's panel on food safety and environmental hygiene, said he would raise the issue during the next meeting. Mr Wong said he had asked the department to provide information about the bootblack licence.