Cleaning workers from a West Kowloon public housing estate have gone on a rare strike over alleged outstanding payments, demonstrating outside the Legislative Council on Thursday.

Dozens of ex-employees from Man Shun Hong Kong and Kowloon Cleaning Company claimed that they have been denied severance payments after being “forced” to sign voluntary resignation agreements in October, when the company’s contract at Cheung Sha Wan’s Hoi Lai Estate ended.

Workers on strike outside the Legislative Council. Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

They said that, if they refused to resign, they would be assigned to work in other areas around the city – incurring costly transportation fees every day. The workers were then re-employed by a new cleaning contractor – Hong Kong Commercial Cleaning – which declined to honour long service payments for their tenures with Man Shun.

Local politicians and media have alleged that the old and new firms are related. iCable reported that Man Shun and Commercial Cleaning share the same office, and a Commercial Cleaning staffer tried to hide a sign reading “Man Shun” with a piece of cloth when journalists visited on Wednesday.

Workers on strike outside the Legislative Council. Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

A Man Shun spokesperson told Apple Daily that the workers had been given a week to consider whether they wanted to continue working for the company, and had simply amicably departed.

Photo: In-Media.

The pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) estimated on Wednesday – when the workers began their strike – that Man Shun could owe up to HK$1 million in severance payments in total, given that its contract at Hoi Lai Estate began in 2008.

HK$11 pay rise

Two dozen workers demonstrated outside LegCo’s “Civic Square” on Thursday morning, joined by the CTU and local party Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL).

“The contractors cheat, the Housing Department shirks. Payments disappear and workers are being tricked.” Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

One worker, who declined to be identified, told HKFP that she had been working for Man Shun for nine years, and that her most recent salary totalled around HK$8,600 per month. By signing with Commercial, she was given an HK$11 pay rise.

She said she did not know how much in severance pay she was owed: “I can’t do the maths, and they never told me – I felt like I’ve been tricked.”

ADPL District Councillor Tam Kwok-kiu told HKFP that the workers would decide their next steps after seeing how the government responds, but their ultimate aim is to receive their severance pay.

Tam Kwok-kiu. Photo: HKFP/Elson Tong.

Tam said that the Housing Department is responsible for resolving the problem given that it ultimately funds the contractors.

Photo: In-Media.

“The government is hiding behind a web of regulations,” he added. “It has the responsibility to oversee whether its contractors treat their employees acceptably.”

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.