CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Elderly labourers taken to cleaners by outsourcing practices

HONG KONG (UCAN): Hong Kong’s mostly elderly cleaners, some in their 80s, are falling victim to outsourcing companies employing them under two-year government contracts.
Ming, who is 70-years-old, cleaned public toilets, but was forced to change companies four times in six years by an outsourcing requirement that favours the lowest bidder—with bids usually lowered through contractors minimising labour costs.
Ming recounted that in November last year, his monthly salary was reduced from US$764 ($5,900) to US$662 ($5,200) and that such pay cuts are not uncommon.
Augustine Yu Siu-po, supervisor of the Catholic diocese’s Pastoral Centre for Workers in the New Territories said that companies fiddle with contracts.
This includes side-stepping an ordinance provision for workers who have been with a company for a full two years to receive severance pay when businesses close.
“The majority of cleaners are unfamiliar with the labour laws and are afraid of fighting against their company, while outsourcing companies are run or owned by retired civil servants who are very familiar with the labour ordinances—especially the loopholes,” Yu said.
As a majority of cleaners are over 65-years-old, they are not required to join a provident fund and there is no universal retirement income protection scheme them.
They do have minimum wage protection, but rarely get a substantial raise.
Ming originally worked at a long-established company at an hourly rate more than a dollar higher than the minimum wage. However, after the company failed to get a new contract, he had to find another employer.
Then he only received the minimum wage.
“The outsourcing companies are often replaced,” Ming told said.
“We sign a new contract each time, so there is no way to accumulate seniority.”
He also complained that some companies do not provide sick pay.
Lee Ngan-kwan, formation officer of the Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, called on the government to ensure that workers such as cleaners are protected from abuses under outsourcing.

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