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February 1996, Volume 3, Number 2

Foreign Workers in Hong Kong

"Being sold as pigs" is how the Chinese referred to labor recruitment in the 19th century. Today, with Hong Kong booming, and many Chinese migrating in search of jobs, Hong Kong is now becoming the primary destination for Chinese migrant workers.

Hong Kong has labor laws to protect foreign workers, but labor contractors have devised ways to evade them.

Some sub-contractors have won construction jobs with low bids, making their profits by paying workers less than the minimum wage. Many workers imported for jobs also got substandard food and accommodation. Since many migrants borrow money to pay the labor contractor, they put up with the abusive conditions until the debt is repaid.

Some Chinese construction workers, with two-year contracts, were dismissed early. Hong Kong law does not allow them to seek alternative employment so they must leave within two weeks after dismissal. This same law applies to maids, who have been trying to get the rule amended.

There is currently a government investigation into allegations that foreign construction workers at the new Hong Kong airport are having illegal deductions made from their wages. On January 12, 1995, some 239 mainland workers who were fired from airport construction jobs agreed to accept $5,000 each to end their dispute. The workers argued that they had bought their jobs for about $30,000 each from a subcontractor, and should get this fee back because they were terminated early.

One restaurant worker was paid only half the salary stated in the worker's contract approved by the labor authorities. The contractor was convicted supplying false information on an employment contract, and given a one-month suspended sentence and $10,000 fine.

The worker had been promised $2,500 per month minus food and lodging, but was paid only $330 per month after deductions.

"Labour pains," South China Morning Post, January 13, 1996. Wanda Szeto and Keith Wallis, "$5,000 payoff for airport workers, Contractor settles after overnight street protest by 239 mainlanders," South China Morning Post, January 13, 1996. C.K. Lau, "Recent disputes show a need to warn foreign workers of pitfalls here," South China Morning Post, January 14, 1996. Charlotte Parsons, "Employees agreed to salary scam," South China Morning Post, January 13, 1996.