The government is being urged to send out a clearer message about the risks of working on the mainland, by an NGO which has accused it of 'selling workers like slaves'. Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, referred to former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung's encouragement for people to seek opportunities on the mainland, saying it lured people across the border without warning of the risks. 'Many people are not aware of the different labour conditions, the legal system and the lack of assistance,' said Mr Ho yesterday. 'And when they come back, not only does the government not help them, it erects barriers making it harder for them to get assistance.' He said the Social Welfare Department required applicants for assistance to have spent at least 309 days of the previous year in Hong Kong, effectively ruling out those who sought work across the border. Mr Ho's comments follow a survey by the society, which interviewed 30 low-skilled workers who had returned from the mainland. Community organiser Ng Wai-tung said: 'Some are forced to return [from across the border after being sacked] but because they can't get social welfare, or wait for their application to be approved, they go back again looking for work,' which further reduced their chances of getting assistance because of the 309-day rule. Mr Ng said the society had discussed the issue with social welfare lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and Li Fung-ying, who represents the labour constituency. The society also plans to meet the Social Welfare Department. 'We will urge the repeal of this 309-day criteria,' said Mr Ng, who added the department already required welfare recipients to remain in Hong Kong to receive the assistance, a sufficient safeguard. The Social Welfare Department says CSSA may be granted in spite of the 309-day criteria in 'exceptional circumstances.' Government surveys show Hongkongers working on the mainland increased from 122,000 in 1995 to 237,000 last year, while those living across the border rose from 41,300 in 2000 to 91,800 last year.