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Working Below A Clean Hong Kong
The Work of Hong Kong Women Workers Association (HKWWA) in their Own Words

HKWWA is one of CAW's network groups and is dedicated to the fight for women workers' rights in Hong Kong. The rights of women cleaners are one of our recent concerns.

We have been visiting women cleaners in several public housing estates in our neighbourhood since 1995. Last year, after several intensive visits, we came to realise the difficulties in organising the women cleaners at their workplace to fight for their rights because they are closely watched by their boss who uses the tactic of divide-and-rule to control their work. Cleaners working in the

same housing estate may not know each other, much less their wages. We have tried once to organise a sharing session about their working condition for the cleaners in one estate. However, after we publicised the activity, they were immediately warned by their boss not to make any troubles. In fear of losing their job, they dared not talk to us when we made further approaches.

We decided to bring them to our centre as a starting point in giving them support in case of labour disputes and other work-related problems. We also provided a health check-up scheme for the women cleaners so as to make them more aware of work safety and health problems. Gradually, we are drawn more closely together. At the time when the contract of the cleaning company in

one estate was terminated, some active women cleaners were organised to claim back their redundancy payment, and to put pressure on the Housing Authority to monitor the cleaning companies.

A difficult dilemma that we are facing is the issue of illegal workers. To cut cost, cleaning companies and subcontractors rush to get illegal workers from China. Some women cleaners have complained to us and suggested to report the case to the police and the immigration department. We tried our best to explain to them that taking such action would end up having the illegal workers deported and yet the cleaning companies could easily stay at large. The local women cleaners do understand this situation. However, their fear of losing the job is really overwhelming. Much tension is germinating between local and foreign workers and even with the new immigrants from China for they are willing to accept lower wages. Under this context, it is extremely difficult to build up unity among the cleaners to defend their rights. We have no strategy to resolve the dilemma yet. But we believe that continuous awareness-raising is crucial for this cause.

At this stage, we aim at organising women cleaners in housing estates and thus establishing a platform to defend their labour rights under the subcontracting system and to force the government to review this exploitative system. In the long run, it is hoped that the platform can be extended to part-time/temporary/contract women workers in other job settings towards forming an informal sector union to advance their own rights.

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In the refuse room, cleaners have to collect garbage poured down through a giant channel. Dust sewage, and broken pieces very often fly out, hurting their eye.

Vol. 17 No. 2 April 1998