Opinion / From the Press

The plight of garbage collectors

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-10-22 08:05

A shopping mall managing company in Dongguan, Guangdong province, has decided to divide garbage collectors into two categories, regardless of their workload, and thus offers different salaries to the two groups. The young and "good-looking" ones can get 1,800 yuan ($300) a month while the other group gets only 1,650 yuan. The city's labor law enforcement authority has said that such an arrangement is "employment discrimination". In fact, there is no rationality behind such an arrangement, says an article on China Youth Daily. Excerpts:

The young and "good-looking" garbage collectors could project a good image of the shopping mall, because judging people by their looks seems to have become an accepted social reality, no matter how misconstrued the idea is.

In today's society, appearance has become an important part of a person's personality. The "better" the looks of a person, the more power he/she is supposed to have to boost social vitality and productivity. In this sense, paying garbage collectors of a shopping mall according to their looks is not an abnormal business phenomenon.

But the problem is that many of the garbage collectors are middle-aged migrant workers or laid-off laborers, who neither have human capital nor social connections. They are a disadvantaged group in the labor market. If they are paid according to their looks, and not the work they do, it would be a discrimination for no fault of theirs.

There is no justification in the argument that paying people according to their looks is the result of market laws and that the garbage collectors have the freedom to continue working or quit their jobs if they are not happy with the arrangement. In fact, very few garbage collectors have other options to earn a living. Many of them do not get any pension or have medical insurance.

Different incentive mechanisms, including higher payments, should be used to prompt the garbage collectors to perform better at their job. But it is not ethical (or professional) to pay them according to their looks.

Employers have to strike the right balance between their pursuit for profit and social responsibility in order to create a truly humanitarian working environment for the garbage collectors.

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