but the police are too lazy to do anything. But anyway, the laws are an insult to one's intellect: the law requires that the illegal worker be witness in court. Who will do this, knowing that once they come out they will be repatriated and punished for working illegally. They will not get paid either. Who is the winner in this game?
Every time when I explain this to the cleaners, they invariably tell me that they understand this very well. They know that the illegal workers are also having a hard time here -- they have seen them sleeping on garbage bins, 'padded' with wood board, carton or mattress they have collected, in the non-ventilated, dark, stinky refuse room at icy winter nights.
However, when they have to confront the despicable boss who can get happy by reducing the wages from $6,000 to $5,700 (US$711) while increasing the workload, and says arrogantly, "Do it or not? I have a whole queue out there who are ready to take much less!" The boss is naturally talking about illegal workers. What a bastard! Yes, the cleaners know that the illegal workers are more severely exploited: they get only $150 (US$20) a month, dozens of times lower than what they normally earn. But they also realise that they can lose their job easily. Many of them are new immigrants from China and they know very well what life means in China. However, when they themselves are sinking, can they really think about saving the illegal workers?
Who am I to tell them 'Workers Unite'? I have persuaded them not to
report to the police. What next? Can this build up solidarity among workers? Can this bring them job security? Shall we let the illegal workers squeezed to the full by the suckers and bring home $150 and live happily ever after? Before 'workers of the world unite', we workers have to eat. Can't afford to stop fighting. No, we haven't stopped. But it is really a tough road.
At this moment, I want to cry.
Ah Foon Looking at Bo Lin"I offer my labour, and you are bound to give my due. I wouldn't take one single cent that is not mine" -- this is how Pui Wan looks at the boss. With this kind of assertiveness, the boss dared not cheat her, and she would fight to the last minute for anything owed by the boss. Unfortunately, her effort has not inspired others to come together and do the same. One of the reasons is that they are each responsible for a block and seldom have the chance to know each other. This is perfect setting for the boss to use the tactic of divide-and-rule. Left to themselves, they react differently to their boss, depending a lot on their economic burden and personality.
Bo Lin is more subservient, probably because of her age. Afterall, she stands a lesser chance to get some other jobs. But she is optimistic. I can see smiles on her face whenever I meet her. She is so lovely.
She is more uptight with her wages but sees other benefits as extra blessing from the boss. She just wants to do the job well, thinking that if there are no complaints from the neighbourhood, she will not get fired.
However, one part of her cleaning job (cleaning the football pit) was re-assigned to the supervisor's relative. I heard from Pui Wan that she was very sad. When I visited her and asked her about this, Bo Lin said, still with smiles on her face, "I'm O.K. I am not sad." But I could see tears in her eyes. I really wanted to hold her in my arms. But finally I just managed to stroke her back and uttered some nice words. True, sometimes, I take her as my mother. A very special feeling of closeness.
I recall that she once was owed redundancy compensation of $20,000 (US$2,500). Despite the huge amount, she was less upset. Of course she was very happy when she finally fought back her due. But this time, she questioned herself, "Why did he fire me? Did I do anything wrong? But I have done by best, haven't I?" Looking at her, I could strongly feel her grievance: it is not money that matters; it is the blow to her self-image.
But very soon, she got back the job. Maybe the boss could not find anybody more obedient than her. So now, she has to collect garbage, clean the football pit, clear up bulky items and in the morning, carry the garbage bins to the garbage-collecting car. All these for just $600 (US$75) more while the boss saves a lot as he is supposed to hire another cleaner to do these jobs.
It is hard work but Bo Lin seems to be more concerned with getting the job and feels proud about it.
What is worrying to me is her health.
(pictures on page 2)
Vol. 17 No. 2 April 1998