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Hong Kong: A Pair of Hands Never Tired - Domestic worker Bobo received Unionist Award

Hong Kong: A Pair of Hands Never Tired - Domestic worker Bobo received Unionist Award

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by Fish Ip published Sep 19, 2015 12:00 AM
Contributors: HKCTU
During the 25 years' anniversary of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), Bobo Lai-wan PO, leader of Hong Kong Domestic Workers General Union, was one of the 13 unionists awarded as the Unionist who "do not acquiesce". Here's her story.

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(中文見下面 Roll down for Chinese. )

HONG KONG -

Domestic workers save families from dusty homes. No matter how messy is a home, it will be spotless under Bobo’s pair of hands. However, Bobo pays the cost – she has lost her fingerprints after all these years working as a domestic worker. Other people can get their fingerprints detected and pass through electronic channel at immigration gates. She cannot. The long-time and labour intensive work has caused her permanent damages like joint pains, muscle strains. Despite all these pains, she is thankful for the work as it has taken her to unions. She used to be a timid and scared nameless woman worker. Now she is a woman union leader standing in the front line.


Photo: Pak Chai

Trembling behind the banner

Bobo started to work as a live-in domestic worker when she was 17 years old. At the age of 27, she got married. A few years later, she started to work as a domestic worker with multiple employers. This work is a lonesome work. You can only keep silent with labour problems, work injuries. In 2001, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) was establishing a union organizing local domestic workers, the Hong Kong Domestic Workers General Union. She witnessed the strength of a union.

At that time, two local domestic workers were hired by a company who dispatch workers to households to do domestic work. The two workers were asked by the company to sign a self-employment contract. This in turn, would allow the company not to provide insurance coverage for the workers, nor any welfare and benefits. A group of domestic workers then went to the company for a negotiation under the leadership of an HKCTU organizer.

“At that time, I was so fearful that I could not figure out what is happening. I just hold the protest banner, trembling.” recalled Bobo. The two workers finally had got their employment contracts back recognizing employer-employee relationship. The one-week experience has made the timid woman to feel immediately that “I am a powerful woman.”

Since then, Bobo has been active in union's activities and work. One concern was on work safety of domestic workers. Some domestic workers died from falling from their employers' apartments while cleaning windows. The union stuck posters to raise public awareness. It pressed the government to protect domestic workers from work injuries. The union has been able to make employers to buy labour insurance for domestic workers.

Yet, Bobo does have regret in her long struggle in union.  In 2005, a member of the domestic workers union strained her back while working. Her employer refused to take the responsibility. "You might have injured in other households or in your own home." Employer claimed and refused to report the work injury to Labour Department as required by the law.

The worker had done MRI scan and other medical check ups. She suffered from acute pains. She worried about the burden for her family because of heavy medical fee. She jumped to death. The union went in front of the employer's door to distribute leaflets to her neighborhood almost everyday, demanding the employer to take the responsibility. The pressure had got the case to the court. However, the Labour Department lost the court case against the employer.

The union at that time was also demanding Hong Kong government for a Central Compensation Scheme. The scheme can be a pool with contributions from employers to compensate domestic workers’ occupational illness. However, the government has not adopted the union’s demand until now.

Bobo is happy that her family no more “dislikes politics”

Bobo is a core leader of the union. She often ignores her family. She had a family of four- her husband, a construction site worker, her son and daughter. In the first two years of the union, no one cooked whenever she went out to attend union meetings. Her family was left behind. Without dinner at home, it costed them more than $100 for a dinner at restaurants. Her family complained for such a huge expense. Bobo resolved the problem by going to union in secret with different sort of lies, e.g. someone was treating her a meal which she could not reject.

However, in a 2003 mass demonstration against Hong Kong government’s proposal to Article 23 on National Security Legislation, her husband stood up and joined the demonstration. He used to “hate politics”.

“He used to accuse me many times as trouble-makers. I was moved when he joined the demonstration at that time.” Bobo said. Although she had gained her husband’s support, her daughter and son were not interested in social movement. Until last year in the Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong, her son has changed.

Together with several union members, she was making Tong Sui (note: sweet soup, kind of Chinese healthy desert) to distribute to the protesters. Her son volunteered himself to push the cart carrying Tong Sui. When Bobo left her family picnic in the mid of the day to attend union’s action, her son-in-law recognized her union’s work, saying “you have your mission.”

Bobo says if she has not chosen to join the union, maybe she will remain as an ordinary housewife who just grumble on her own over problems. She said she will not leave the fight. 

 “If I leave the union, there will be nowhere to express our anger and concern over injustice.”  Bobo said.

(Translated and edited from its original text in Chinese by Fish Ip from Issue 138, HKCTU Solidarity Post, October 2015)

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永不言休的一雙手 – 布麗雲

文:緣木

一屋塵垢,全靠家務助理打救。在家務助理總工會副主席布麗雲(阿布)的一雙手下,即使家中多亂,也可令人找不出半條毛,代價卻是磨平了她十指指紋,過關入不了E道,長期密集工作也造成關節痛、肌肉勞損等永久損傷,力不從心,幾年前半退休已改行賣菜。帶着一身傷,她卻感激這工作令她認識工會,由「鵪鶉」小女工變成走到最前線的女性領袖,10多年來為姊妹爭取保險、工傷賠償,這名老前輩坦言永不言休,「如果不嫌我阻住地球轉,我會一直留在工會」。

「以前的我,(僱主)叫我做什麼便做,不知自己的權益」,63歲的布麗雲(人稱阿布),是家務助理總工會的創會成員,堪稱會內「元老」,她形容若非遇到工會,她只是一隻「鵪鶉」。

震騰騰拉Banner

她自17歲起打「住家工」,27歲成婚生子幾年後才改行做家務助理。這份工作是「獨家村」,沒有「同事」,面對勞工問題、家居意外,或只敢忍氣吞聲,她分享入行初時曾替一名僱主家庭抹廚房,在洗菜檯上不慎跣腳,回家才發現流血紅腫,傷口見骨,求醫時卻不敢如實告知受傷原因,「那時沒工會,怕說出人聽工作時弄傷,會令僱主有問題,又怕自己無了份工」,入了工會後她才醒覺,這是自己權利。

2001年職工盟成立家務助理工會,聚集一班曾受其培訓的家務助理,阿布也是其中一員,一眾婦女對工會無認識,只為閒時聚會有「聚腳點」,交換清潔心得,不用每次見面都只去飲茶;成立一周後的一場示威,才讓她們見證工會力量,當時有兩名家務助理獲中介機構「數碼姐」分派工作,但對方要求二人簽定自僱合約,變相保險、福利什麼也不包,一眾女工便在時任總幹事葉沛瑜的帶領下去其辦公室「講數」,「當時真的不知什麼事,一上去別人門口,拉住張banner,我真的驚到『震騰騰』」,她隨眾人戴上口罩,橫額愈拉愈高,到最後只露頭髮。收隊後,她得來談判成功、兩名姊妹恢復僱傭合約的消息,這名工運經驗僅一周的小女工立即覺得:「原來自己好有力量」。

往後日子,她積極參與工會事務,例如以往有家務助理抹窗時失足墮樓意外始令社會關注家助安全,工會四處貼海報宣傳,促使政府正視家助工傷問題,令僱主須買勞工保險。

可是,阿布在工會多年亦不無遺憾,2005年時,會內一名家務助理工作時扭傷腰,其僱主卻不認帳,「說你做那麼多家人,又或者你是在家弄傷」,未有依法於限期內呈報工傷,該名姊妹傷患嚴重,又要照磁力共振等多項檢查,難抵痛楚加上龐大醫藥費令她有感負累家人,竟選擇跳樓了結生命,阿布說,「之後工會幾乎日日去僱主家派傳單、叫咪要求交代」,施壓演變上庭,最後還是輸了官司。賠了生命,工會仍未爭取到保障,阿布指,她們曾提出成立中央保償基金,由政府做「大水塘」支援工傷保險,但此建議遭無期押後,她慨嘆「坊間不夠齊心」,「退休保障關個個人的事,中央保償基金只是散工問題」。

欣喜家人不再「討厭政治」

阿布是工會中堅,有時也因此忽略家庭,她與任職地盤工的丈夫育有兩名兒女,尤記得當初加入工會首兩年,她一去開會,家中便無人煮飯,丈夫與兒女外出用膳動輒要花100元一晚,對當時算是龐大支出,家人對她頗有怨言,阿布此後便只好偷偷行動,「說這誰那誰請食飯,不去不行」,用各種藉口隱瞞。

不過,2003年一場反廿三條大遊行,令她原本「討厭政治」的丈夫也站出來,「那天我要做糾察,早上9時要去到維園,先生話『我都去』」,之後兩夫婦分開行動,臨到終點,她竟見到丈夫幫忙拿着直幡在搖動,「以前成日說我搞事,那刻也覺得感動」。得到老公支持,但兩名已30餘歲的兒女,多年來還是不熱衷社運,甚少關注工會,直至去年雨傘運動,阿布與工會友人幫忙分派糖水,兒子主動幫忙推車,她為「撐場」半途缺席家庭旅行,女婿也說:「你有你的使命」。

家人開始關心社會不公,阿布卻坦言工會內志同道合者漸少,以去年五一遊行為例,大家討論標語,除了爭取退休保障,布姐也提出「真普選」,立即便有理事反對,因其在內地有房產,認為不需加入政治議題。近年職工盟的家務助理培訓招生不足,工會也面臨式微危機,由成立最初約600成員,2004、05年最高峰期更有1200人,現時卻回落至僅400多人,近年入行者減,當中新移民婦女比例漸增,她們因要經常往返內地而抗拒入工會,阿布稱,工會也在尋求出路,例如已招攬陪月員入會。

阿布說,如果沒有選工會,她或許只是一名普通師奶,遇事悄悄抱怨,因此揚言不願退下火線,「若我離開了工會,有不平便無處宣洩」。

Source: HKCTU

Story Type: Story

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