SCMP Thursday, October 12, 2000


Low-skilled workers 'simply shoved aside'


Jobless garment worker Fion Wu welcomed Mr Tung's job initiatives but held little hope of them helping her.
Ms Wu, who has been in and out of work for the past four years, said retraining was a good idea but would only benefit certain people.
"I don't think it's going to help much. Bosses will still dislike old female workers, especially if they are low-skilled like me. After all, it's a matter of luck which employer you will come up to," she said.
Ms Wu, 47, was made redundant four years ago and has been forced to make ends meet by working part-time. Her income has ranged from nothing to less than $3,000 a month, depending on the amount of work available. But she said the psychological pain hurt most.
"I have been fortunate enough to have some savings, but life has been so hard, no one will ever understand," she said.
Some respite came last year when friends introduced her to a retraining course with the Confederation of Trade Unions. After attending a course on property management, Ms Wu got a job as a car park caretaker.
On her first day, however, she was given the night shift and, contrary to what she had been told, the job was only temporary, meaning she was part-time and back to square one. She quit last week and is looking for another job.
Ms Wu said she wanted the Government to set up a statutory minimum wage to protect low-skilled workers like herself. She said that while the Government may be unable to control exploitation by employers, it had an obligation to guarantee a decent living for all.
"By setting a minimum wage, low-skilled workers will have basic dignity. Now we are simply shoved aside, having to accept whatever pay and jobs that are on offer," she said.
On top of her call for a minimum wage of at least $5,000 a month, Ms Wu also urged the Chief Executive to weed out exploitation and discrimination against female or aged workers.
Her training officer, Agnes Lung Lai-wah, said Ms Wu's case was only the tip of the iceberg, and many middle-aged workers faced discrimination from employers. Pay as low as $4,500 a month and 12-hour days were other common problems in caretaker jobs.
Ms Lung said while those eligible for computer courses stood a better chance of getting jobs, low-skilled, less-educated, middle-aged workers like Ms Wu tended to be last in line.
The unemployment rate stands at five per cent, down from a peak last summer of 6.3 per cent. As of June, 520,000 workers were making less than $6,000 a month. There were 440,000 in this category before the financial crisis started three years ago.