A group of around 100 outsourced cleaning workers for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) have gone on strike in protest of poor working conditions and pressure from the authorities to fire elderly workers.

Workers for areas including Ngau Tau Kok, Kwun Tong and Yau Tong gathered on Monday at the Shui Wo Street Municipal Services Building in Kwun Tong demanding answers from FEHD.

The contractor, Lapco Service Limited, met with the workers’ representative and FEHD officials. At around 1pm, the workers said the FEHD promised it would relax the requirements for workers, and they agreed to go back to work.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department cleaning workers strike FEHD

Among them, six were over 70 years old. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) provided them with assistance.

HKCTU said one-third of the cleaning workers in the area joined the strike action.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department cleaning workers strike FEHD

It said the workers’ superior officers – commonly known as “white shirts” – would not allow them to eat during work. They were also pressured to shorten the time allotted for drinking water.

It also said the FEHD has been pushing the outsourced companies which hired the workers to punish, or fire, elderly workers.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department cleaning workers strike FEHD

A 78-year-old worker surnamed Lee, who had worked as a cleaner for 13 years, told reporters that he received complaints that he was working too slowly: “[FEHD] said it may reduce the payment to the company as a punishment… They have said they may fire [me] any time.”

Another worker, surnamed Wong, said he hoped the FEHD would understand that the workers were elderly and may experience pain after walking for long distances when cleaning streets: “We just wanted to drink some water and get some rest. They didn’t have to be so strict.”

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.