SCMP Saturday, November 3, 2001

Cleaners' wages rise under tender system


Monthly wages for cleaners have increased under the Government's new tendering system, but some are still $200 below the market rate.
The tendering system - which requires contractors to stipulate wages and maximum working hours - was introduced in June to crack down on exploitation of workers by subcontractors.
It came after the South China Morning Post revealed in February that a public toilet worker was paid $7 an hour for 14-hour days with no holiday.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has since awarded 17 contracts under the new tendering system. Jobs cover street cleaning, markets and public toilets, and also waste collection.
There have been concerns over the wages of the department's contracted workers as more jobs will be contracted out in the next two years.
Unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said yesterday he had learned that cleaners hired under the new contracts were making $5,100 to $5,200 a month. They worked eight hours a day, six days a week, at an average hourly rate of $26.
Some cleaners had complained that under the old contracts the only holiday they were allowed was Lunar New Year's Day. Some made $13 to $15 an hour.
Although the hourly rates under the new contracts have doubled or tripled, the monthly wages are still below the market rate as surveyed by the Government.
While assessing the tenders, the department used as a reference the $5,325 monthly wage for "general cleaners" published in a quarterly report by the Census and Statistics Department in June.
The old tendering system did not take into account wages and working conditions. The new one includes a marking scheme that assesses these factors. Tenders have to contain this information in the submissions and include them in employment contracts if they win the bid.
According to the marking scheme, deployment of human resources of the tenders accounts for 50 points out of 100.
Proposed monthly wages for workers account for 20 marks and eight marks are given according to proposed daily maximum working hours.
Tenders get no marks at all if they propose a working day of more than 10 hours.
A department spokesman said: "The department can issue a default notice and make a deduction in our monthly payment to the contractor for breach of the wage level and/or allowable maximum working hours undertaking."
Mr Lee said the Government must enforce these regulations to ensure workers received the agreed wages.
"The department should be more pro-active in educating the workers," he said. "For example, distributing leaflets to them and encouraging them to report exploitation."
A spokesman added that the department also required contractors to provide a statement each month to guarantee that all workers had been paid the agreed wages.
The Labour Department has issued 422 summonses so far this year to contractors of public toilet cleaning services for breaching the Employment Ordinance.