Cleaning workers from a West Kowloon public housing estate have ended a rare ten-day strike, winning an increase in wages and severance payments from their employers.

Cleaners at Cheung Sha Wan’s Hoi Lai Estate went on strike last week, saying that they were denied severance payments when their company’s contract with the public housing estate ended in October. They were then re-employed by a new cleaning contractor, which declined to honour long service payments for their tenures with the old company.

However, local media found that the two companies – Man Shun Hong Kong and Kowloon Cleaning Company and Hong Kong Commercial Cleaning – both shared the same office. Activists criticised the firms as trying to avoid paying HK$1 million in severance.

【 罷工勝利結束!】外判商答允海麗清潔工友,大部份遣散費及加薪訴求!罷工勝利!工友同意協議內容保密,明天復工。#好抱歉我地唔可以正式對外公佈#工友拎返應得權益最重要楊彧Yeung Yuk 民協 ADPL 大專政改關注組…

Posted by 職工盟(HKCTU) on Friday, 5 January 2018

They were then offered HK$200 in severance pay for each year they were employed, which the cleaners considered to be a humiliation.

At around 4pm on Friday, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions said the employers had agreed to increase the severance payment by a large sum along with a pay rise. Workers will return to work on Saturday.

According to sources cited by InMedia, they will receive HK$1,200 in severance pay for each year they were employed – 80 per cent of the full amount. They will also receive a raise of HK$172, making their monthly pay HK$8,800. The sum is higher than the initial HK$11 raise offered.

It came after activists checked Company Registry records and found that the two companies were part of a large suspected bid-rigging network involving business people, pro-Beijing politicians, former Housing Department officials, property management, engineering and security companies.

Hoi Lai Estate cleaning workers
Striking Hoi Lai Estate cleaning workers. Photo: In-Media.

Denny To, an executive of the Cleaning Service Industry Workers Union, said the incident had yet to be resolved from a structural perspective, and the outsourcing mechanism must be reformed.

“I thank all Hoi Lai Estate workers who stood up – they not only fought for their own rights, they exposed the suspicious relationship between outsourcing companies,” To said.

The workers and activists protested outside the Housing Department headquarters on Friday with pictures of housing director Stanley Ying, criticising the department for not actively stepping in. They wielded a prop showing Ying with black eyes, and another showing him as a turtle – which alludes to ignorance in Cantonese.

Stanley Ying turtle
Director of Housing Stanley Ying’s face attached to a turtle. Photo: In-Media.

A worker surnamed Tang who was responsible for cleaning Hoi Lai Estate’s garbage storage said he was happy with the result. But he said he hoped outsourcing companies would provide better treatment to workers: “It would be better if there was one more person working, I can’t do all that work on my own.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.