Union claims unfair treatment of mainland care workers

Updated: 2011-07-30 09:05

By Andrea Deng (HK Edition)

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Unionists suspect that many of Hong Kong's private residential care homes for the elderly may have been illegally underpaying mainland care assistants and seizing their travel documents.

The Community Care and Nursing Home Workers General Union protested at the Hong Tak Institution of Old Age Limited on Friday morning, accusing the institution of extracting five months of salaries from each of six female care assistants, not paying the overtime, and withholding workers' travel documents.

All six care assistants at the facility came from Guangxi province through the Labour Department's Supplementary Labour Scheme, the purpose of which is "to alleviate manpower shortages".

"The exploitation has been quite common in this industry. This is not the first case we found," said Cheng Ching-fat, a secretary of the union.

"We have informed the Labour Department last August, but there has not been any response."

The six care assistants claimed, showing their bank books as proof, that each had handed their five-month salaries, amounting to HK$31,995, in cash to Kwok Hoi-yin, the owner and head of the institution.

They said they were told by Kwok that the fee, of which they were not aware when they came to Hong Kong, will go to the agency which introduced them to the institution.

They were also told that they each will need to pay a total of HK$9,600 after two years when their work visas expire.

They said they have already paid the agency fees added up to 26,000 yuan each.

The six care assistants identified an agent named Li Tianren, who they said introduced them to the institution and regularly called them to remind them paying the fees. However, they were unable to contact this person themselves.

Kwok denied that she had received any of their salaries.

"I have no idea what they are saying, but I promise I will look into the issue and make sure they get their money back, if there is a problem with their salary," she said.

In addition, the care assistants said their travel documents have been retained by Kwok.

One care assistant who would not disclose her name said she once begged Kwok to give back her travel document so that she could go back to her hometown, but the document was seized again after she returned to Hong Kong.

Kwok denied the accusation, saying she did not withhold travel documents, and that she only collected their documents for visa renewal.

The care assistants also said sometimes they had to work continuously for four 12-hour shifts because of manpower shortage.

Kwok said she was not aware of the problem.

According to Yau Chi-hang, a member of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), the care assistants had not signed contracts with the institution, and they were made aware of the necessity of contracts only when they went to the Labour Department's briefing section.

There are 18 care assistants at the institution from Guangxi province and came to Hong Kong via the same agency.

Kwok would not disclose the total number of employees, but one of the care assistants said mainland employees account for more than half of the total employees.

Cheng said that there may be more than 1,000 legal mainland employees now working as care assistants - more than in any other industry.

"The reason there are so many non-local employees in the industry is because of the hard work with low pay. Many local employees would rather be cleaners or security workers," said Tam Chun-yan, an HKCTU member.

Cheng cited Cheung Kin-chung, secretary for labour and welfare, as saying "the conduct of some mainland agencies does affect the rights and benefits of imported laborers".

andrea@chinadailyhk.com

China Daily

(HK Edition 07/30/2011 page1)