Government-contracted cleaning companies who make low-paid staff pay fines of up to HK$4,000 for improper behaviour have been warned they could be prosecuted and barred from future tenders for five years. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department acted yesterday after a district councillor alleged that at least one company with contracts in several parts of Hong Kong was fining staff, and the government was turning a blind eye. Yuen Long councillor Zachary Wong Wai-yin said that since July, many cleaners in the district had complained to him about being fined for breaking some of the 22 rules they are required to follow. They include warnings about sleeping on the job, being lazy and not wearing a work badge, he said. Fines include HK$700 for sleeping on the job and HK$4,000 for working for more than one company. But Wong said: 'Labour regulations dictate, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department confirmed, that the companies should be responsible for paying the fines, not the cleaners themselves.' The cleaners earn between HK$3,500 and HK$6,500. 'They are already making very little money,' Wong said. 'Fining them HK$700 is a heavy burden.' He also accused the department of turning a blind eye to the companies' behaviour. But the department said it was 'highly concerned' about the accusations and was investigating. If the accusations were found true, it would refer the case to the Labour Department. Wong also said it was unfair cleaners were barred from scavenging from rubbish, an 'offence' that could also mean a HK$700 fine. He said cleaners did so to lighten their families' financial burdens and added: 'It should not be a crime just to collect scraps and resell them.' Wong demanded that the company in question return the fines collected from workers and cancel the punishment policy.