Cleaners strike as trouble heats up

Top News | Ruby Cheung 7 Aug 2018

More than 300 cleaning workers employed by a big contractor for the government staged a strike yesterday to protest against poor working conditions while claiming bosses want elderly workers sacked.

Around 100 Lapco Service workers gathered at Shui Wo Market in Kwun Tong yesterday morning while others stopped work at eight waste handling sites in Kwun Tong and nearby areas, including Ngau Tau Kok and Yau Tong.

All of them were demanding answers about conditions from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

Hung Jun-ngai, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said workers had been treated unfairly.

There were complaints that they were denied meal breaks, while some claimed they were not even given the time to drink water while working in stifling conditions.

"FEHD enforcement officers treat us like dogs," claimed 65-year-old Chan, a cleaning worker for more than 15 years.

Officers from the FEHD are alleged to have threatened to report Chan to Lapco and seek to have her pay docked when they saw her taking a break to drink water during her nine-hour shift.

Now, Chan said, "when I'm desperately thirsty I hide in alleys and take sips."

Confederation general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan revealed that older workers are concerned about losing their jobs.

Besides calling for humane management, Lee said some of the workers had served the community for many years and should stay in their jobs.

"So no dismissal, no hardship," he said. "There should be negotiations between the Food and Hygiene Department, workers and their union on how to improve working conditions."

Wu Mei-lin, a Hong Kong Women Workers' Association coordinator, said negotiations involving four parties - the FEHD, Lapco, worker representatives and the union -- had been planned. But FEHD officials refused to attend.

But department representatives later held a meeting with the general manager of Lapco on easing regulations.

Despite this, Wu is worried workers will still face problems with their rights and will check on the effects of the strike action.

A statement by Lapco claimed the trouble was simply a misunderstanding between the FEHD and workers, though department officers had during the past couple of months "been very demanding" in making workers complete tasks "in an extremely short amount of time."

But the FEHD - which had nothing to say on the strike - had not punished workers or set new guidelines.

Lapco Service is said to have grown out of Champion Cleaning Transport, which was stopped from bidding for government contracts in 2006 after violating the Employment Ordinance.

Lapco has been involved in a number of labor disputes in recent years, which include accusations of underpaying workers and refusing to pay travel expenses.

In the past five years, outsourcing work by Lapco for the FEHD has been worth about HK$1.22 billion and involved some 4,000 workers.

Lapco is responsible for various cleaning projects and services including pest control and waste collection around the SAR.

The present outsourcing contract ends three years from now. During that time the government will pay Lapco HK$670 million.

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