Filipino migrants welcome Ip’s apology, call for better treatment

Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Filipino migrant workers accepted the apology of Hong Kong’s legislative council member, Regina Ip, for her controversial comments on Filipino domestic workers. They also wanted improvements in their conditions and better treatment of all migrant workers here.

GABRIELA Hong Kong, United Filipinos in Hong Kong and BAYAN Hong Kong and Macau said they hope that Ip should avoid discrimination in her speech and writing, in a statement Friday. She shall, instead, “promote the rights of migrants and build a just and inclusive Hong Kong,” they added.

On the same day, Ip issued an apology statement, saying that she did not make the sexist or racist accusations in her article published in Chinese-language newspaper, Ming Pao, on April 17.

She wrote about complaints that she had received from foreign women here against Filipina domestic workers “seducing” their husbands.

She concluded her article by saying, “Beside discussing about the inappropriate behaviors of employers, should foreign media cover more stories of the issues about these Filipino domestic helpers becoming the sex resources of Hong Kong’s male expats?”

The article was posted on her Facebook page and blog that was later removed as reactions sparked, including from the Filipino community.

The sole purpose of the article, she said, “was to raise a question as to whether there is a widespread exploitation of Filipino maids in Hong Kong and to express my concern.”

Ip’s statement followed a protest rally of Filipino groups outside her office on Thursday. The Philippine Consulate General expressed concern over Ip’s “unfortunate choice of words,” adding that it did not reflect the public sentiments, in a statement on April 20.

Hoping that the incident will not happen again, the Filipino groups also challenged Ip to make sure that her apology would reach the broadest number of Hong Kong people.

The groups also wanted the Hong Kong government to enact laws upholding rights of migrant “as women and as workers” and reform policies that “put migrant domestic workers in a condition vulnerable to abuses and discriminatory practices.”

The city has over 173,000 Filipino domestic workers, receiving a monthly salary of 4,110 Hong Kong dollars ($530).

The Hong Kong government requires them to live and work only in their employers’ residences, making them vulnerable for long hours of work and domestic violence and abuse, according to Mission for Migrant Workers.

The Filipino community also call for strong implementation of anti-discrimination ordinances and for multiculturalism education to be “more extensive and intensive.”

They will pursue their planned action on April 26 in Central to echo the “message of non-discrimination and social inclusion throughout Hong Kong.

Hong Kong domestic workers want to junk ‘excessive’ fees

feliza-benitez-ofw-hong-kong

This article is first published by The Diplomat.

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Feliza Guy Benitez, 58, first came to Hong Kong in 1993 as a domestic worker. She was to be paid a monthly salary at 3,200 Hong Kong dollars ($413). She thought a contract of two years would be enough to help her family back home. But the family faced a series of financial problems, coaxing her to sign a new contract after another.

“I didn’t plan to stay here longer,” says Feliza Guy Benitez, 58, pushing a stroller in Kowloon with the one-year-old daughter of her fifth employer. Sturdy but short, the stroller’s handles come up to her chest.

Over 22 years, her salary has increased a total of HK$810, from HK$3,200 to HK$4,110 this year.

“Almost all of my salary went to my family,” she recalls, citing the hospitalization of her mother, who died in 2005. “When my mother died, I had no choice but to re-loan because I needed a huge amount for all the expenses.”

Then her grieving father’s health worsened, leading to another round of expenses for medication and a caregiver, until he finally died in 2011.

After supporting her family during their trying times, Benitez can now start saving up for herself.  But she has to renew her contract one last time to access the state pension.

Benitez was among 105,410 Filipino domestic workers that arrived here in 1993, as recorded by the Hong Kong Immigration Department. In 2012, their population stood at nearly 156,000, about 98 percent of them women, according to the Mission for Migrant Workers.

Before they can leave the Philippines, overseas Filipino workers had to pay up to Php150,000 ($3,400) in fees imposed by the government and recruitment agencies, says Dolores Balladarez-Pelaez, chairwoman of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL).

Some 200 Filipino domestic workers, representing at least 100 organizations, called for “unnecessary” state-imposed fees to be eliminated, at a national consultation held here on March 29. The meeting was organized by the UNIFIL and the alliance of Filipino migrant workers, Migrante Hong Kong chapter.

Different government agencies earn a total of about Php21 billion (or more than $470 million) a year from the 5,500 Filipinos who leave the country each day to work overseas, notes Balladarez-Pelaez.

Fees are paid for police clearances, the National Bureau of Investigation, electronic passports, membership with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), a terminal fee, Philippine Health Insurance, pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS), Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), and Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund, among other things.

While in Hong Kong, Filipino domestic workers face more fees, such as annual renewal of the OWWA membership, contract authentication and verification, and overseas employment certificate.

Workers want the Philippine government to offer lifetime membership with the OWWA, to scrap the POEA processing fee, and to relax PDOS rules. They also want to remove the mandatory insurance, as the Hong Kong government already requires employers to pay insurance for their domestic workers.

To give strength to their demands, the meeting participants established the Network of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Opposed to Excessive Government Fees, or NO FEE.

It is a revival of the Coalition Against Government Exaction (CAGE) in 1998, which was able to end some state fees through series of protest actions, says Eman Villanueva, secretary general of UNIFIL-Migrante Hong Kong.

CAGE was successful in its campaigns, Villanueva recalls, to reduce the passport fee from HK$510 to HK$435 and the processing fee from HK$500 to HK$87; to open the Philippine Consulate General office on Sundays; and to lighten the OWWA fee regulations. The coalition was also able to require officials, staff and personnel to wear identification cards at work, he added.

Currently the chairwoman of Filipino Migrant Workers Union, Benitez has taken an active part in campaigns of OFWs in Hong Kong throughout her years here.

Had her salaries been higher, she would not be signing more contracts before she could actually save money for herself, she says.

Hong Kong has more than 360,000 domestic workers, representing 15 percent of the city’s women workforce, according to MFMW.

They are also drivers of the economy, Villanueva says, but they have been excluded from society.

Each foreign domestic worker has two years of employment under the standard contract established by the Immigration Department in 1974, providing also a minimum wage for all domestic workers.

Their minimum allowable wage, which was set by the Hong Kong government to exclude foreign domestic workers from the statutory minimum wage, was lowered in both 1999 and 2003 due to the decline of the city’s economy.

“As the economy recovered throughout the 2000’s, increases in the MAW did not correspond with this new prosperity,” the MFMW, along with Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Workers, said in its October 2013 study.

Most foreign domestic workers opted to stay longer by finding new employers or renewing their contracts, as they had not finished paying their debts or their obligations with their families.

Like most of them, Benitez wanted to go home and finally be with her family for good.

“But I don’t want to leave empty-handed,” she said, wiping away tears with her wrinkled, calloused hand.

Lorie Ann Cascaro is a journalist from the Philippines.

Salvaging Tai O in Hong Kong

Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — One of the city’s tourist attractions for its centuries-old stilt houses and salt pans, dried fish and seafoods, Tai O screams out for salvaging.

Despite a decreasing population of nearly 3,000, Tai O had survived typhoons, landslide and big fire in 2000.

Such oldest existing fishing village in Hong Kong has remained steadfast, as villagers thrive to beautify the old and rubbish.

Since fishing ceased to be the villagers’ primary livelihood, tourism has provided a source of income for vendors and business owners. In 2000, the village had a total of 300,000 visitors, 90 percent of which were Hong Kong citizens, according to a 2010 study.

But, massive influx of tourists and development projects in the village have caused the destruction of habitat for marine plants and animals.

The big motors in their modern boats tell how far they need to sail to catch fish.

Garbages found under the stilt houses, in small canals and vacant lots show the persisting problems of solid waste disposal and household discharges.

As their backyards and street corners gather up scrap metals and old appliances, their traditional architecture and implements have slowly been eroded from their daily lives.

An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old.
An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
A fisherman in Tai O starts up his motorized boat on a Wednesday afternoon. The village had been flooded many times by storms but despite the threat of coastal flooding, it has not fully developed a strategy for coastal flood management, according to a 2013 research[1]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Some Tai O villagers buy fish from the fishermen to put salt and dry in the sun and sell in the market for a meager income. Most tourists from Hong Kong visit the village for dried fish and seafoods. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The stilt houses in Tai O, locally called Pang O, have existed since 200 years ago [2] to respond to the practical need of fishing people to have a land-based residence. They are designed to protect them from high tides, but the impacts of climate change pose coastal flood risk[3]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The traditional hats, which have a round brim and crown that distinguish the Tanka people[4], the major ethnic group in Tai O, have almost lost touch in their daily lives. Only seen being used by street sweepers, the hats can be bought at HK$40 from a store owned by two old women who made the hats themselves. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Old boats, like other unused implements in Tai O, found their places, unmoved and unintentionally serving as an artifact of a fading culture of the village. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The people in Tai O continue to pass on the skills in boat-making to the young generation, especially crafting the traditional dragon boats that also provide a source of income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The Dragon Boat Festival is a parade of Tai O’s dieties in long traditional boats made by the villagers to drive away “water ghosts” that caused epidemics hundred years ago. Today, they continue to make boats also for dragon boat racing that has been a popular water sport event, not only in Hong Kong, but also in other Asian countries. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Villagers keep scrap metals and other old items in their yards either to find new usage or make money by selling them. They bring life to their places by planting flowers and vegetables in used boxes and pots. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

[1] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[2] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

[3] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[4] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

Like the waves

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong Island turned into a collage of colored umbrellas and tents this past Easter holiday. Hundreds of people sunbathed while their children were digging in the white sandy beach with plastic toys.

Swell rarely happen in the bay after winter, but Typhoon Maysak made the waves favorable for surfing. Waves at 0.6 meters high appeared every 11 to 12 seconds with a speed of 6 to 8 knots on April 6, according to Magicseaweed’s forecast.

Some 20 surfers paddled up as a wave chased behind them. Before the wave broke out into white foams, one of them had already pulled off a surfing stunt.

Wearing a black rash guard and striped board shorts, a 39-year-old Scottish woman was sitting on a surfboard in the inner part of the swell.

It was easy to find her in the crowd when she still had dreadlocks, said Julie Barrass, a European headhunter, renting a house in Big Wave Bay. She has known Jacqueline Donaldson and most regular beachgoers since she moved here eight years ago.

Barrass was smoking cigarette beside the lifeguard tower when Donaldson came out of the water carrying an 8-foot blue fun board.

Donaldson’s former dreadlocks once saved her life during a surfing accident in 2011 by cushioning the blow as she landed on the seabed. She suffered only a spinal compression fracture.

Having worn dreads since 2009, she considered removing them, but felt guilty “like killing a pet or betraying someone who’d saved my life.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON
Jacqueline Donaldson surfs with dreadlocks that saved her life from a surfing accident in 2011 in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

Changing her style, she took out her dreadlocks in Thailand early this year.

After washing up, Donaldson tied her shoulder-length hair and sat with some friends, lounging and sipping beer with upbeat songs from a tiny portable speaker.

A Filipino born in Hong Kong, Anton Pelayo, 29, joined her, laying down his surfboard. He met Donaldson when “she was doing cinematography video stuff and teaching drama to kids.”

Donaldson took film and photography at the University of Wales College, Newport in United Kingdom.

The two friends had their late lunch at a restaurant facing the beach. It was packed mostly with foreigners.

“I’m going to get the anchovies pizza… Put lemon in my beer please,” she told Pelayo and headed to the toilet.

“She’s a very friendly outspoken lady,” Pelayo said.

PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Jacqueline Donaldson in pink shirt relaxes with her friends after surfing in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island on April 6.  PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Donaldson first came here in 2001 from trips in Pakistan, India, and Nepal and back to Pakistan, her favorite country next to New Zealand. She saw Pakistan before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Of course, now it’s not that safe there anymore,” she said.

After seven months in Hong Kong as English tutor, she travelled to China and Southeast Asia. She tracked wild Orangutans in North Sumatra with a friend. Then, she came back for a year and travelled around Australia and New Zealand.

Settling down here since 2007, she had taught English through drama and pop-culture programs, and took different film projects for free to build up her cinematography skills.

She works as a fitting model and cinematographer on corporate video and independent films, while managing her company, Media, Theatre and Modeling Consultants.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

“Did you see the documentary about the Jonestown massacre? I sent you the link,” she excitedly told Pelayo, who was at the time devouring his burger and fries.

Donaldson was hooked into cult documentaries, exploring similar ideas to document in Hong Kong.

She got permanent residency here in 2014. Foreigners can get a legal status of permanent resident if they have lived here lawfully for seven years.

Itching to travel again, she planned to celebrate her 40th birthday in Hawaii by the end of the year.

After lunch, Pelayo asked if she wanted to surf again.

“I don’t like the waves today. But, I want to get more,” she replied, as her turquoise eyes widened.

Having invested here for 15 years, Donaldson wanted to keep Hong Kong as her base at the moment.

“You never know what will happen in life, love or family. Maybe, one day, I’ll have to move somewhere else.

Art Basel shows Filipino artworks at par globally 

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — A red flag looks like that of a communist party at a distance. It has a sickle and, instead of a hammer, a wine glass. It was the work of London-based Filipino artist Pio Abad.

Modern and contemporary art of Art Basel Hong Kong came in different forms and concepts that without looking at the artists’ names, one would not know which country they represent.

“What makes an artwork Filipino is because the artist is Filipino,” said exhibitor Rachel Rillo at Silverlens galleries of the Philippines and Singapore that featured Abad’s works.

Art is becoming global, she said, adding that the flag was a satire and a contemporary art dialogue, along with a Hermes scarf painting of the same artist.

Silverlens also displayed the works of Filipino artists Maria Taniguchi, Leslie De Chavez, Renato Orara, Bernardo Pacquing, Gregory Halili, Patricia Perez Eustaqiuo and Frank Callaghan, and Yee I-Lann from Malaysia.

Displaying at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 15-17 were over 230 galleries from 37 countries, half of which are found in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Their artworks varied in sizes, from huge canvases hanging from the ceiling to small used paint tube caps scattered like dots on white walls.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Pio Abad’s flag is a satire of a communist party flag, says Rachel Rillo of Silverlens. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

Highly conceptual

Artinformal, another gallery from the Philippines featured Nilo Ilarde’s “faulty landscape,” a collection of salvaged objects such as small paint tubes, tube caps, and brushes. On its fourth year at the international fair, the gallery  chose Ilarde because his work was “highly conceptual with a very strong statement,” said its creative director, Tina Fernandez.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Nilo Ilarde’s Faulty Landscape PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

The Drawing Room Gallery of the Philippines displayed Gaston Damag’s “Shadows of civilization,” using wooden sculptures that symbolize an Ifugao rice god called “bulol” as a proposal of art. “There’s no message at all. I don’t pretend. It’s all about art,” he explained.

The gallery tends to work with specific pool of artists, who are critical in the sense that their works are also a part of their daily life and cultural conditions, said its curator Siddharta Perez.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Gaston Damag (left) says his “Shadows of Civilization” is a proposal for art. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

The three galleries have joined the art fair for several years and placed their artists in the map.

But, unlike Rillo, Fernandez cannot say that Filipino artists have reached global standards in terms of quality of works as they need to improve more. “Local artists should read up what’s happening around the world and attend fairs to see what’s out there,” she added.

Typical commercial art fair

On the other hand, an artist does not need to join international events to excel and be known globally, said Gaston Damag, who was on his second time to join the fair. In fact, it can be a disadvantage to be in “a typical commercial art fair,” he said.

“If you’re not careful, you can be eaten like a small piece of meat,” he said, adding that an artist has to hold a strong position to be less eaten by the commercial aspect of the fair.

Galleries from the Western countries aimed to expand their reach in the Asian region, such as the Richard Gray Gallery located in Chicago and New York.

“We made new clients each year,” said Paul Gray, one of the partners of the gallery.

Hong Kong is a sophisticated city, he said, but it does not have some of the things that make up a great art scene in Western cities. “But, it’s obvious that it’s moving in that direction,” he added.

Over 60,000 people from all over the world visited the fair.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Some 60,000 people from all over the world visited Art Basel Hong Kong this year at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Inkling of aesthetics

Citing that most of the visitors were widely exposed to art and galleries, Rillo said Filipino art enthusiasts do not take much to be at par as they have an inkling of aesthetics.

However, Fernandez said Filipinos need more education to have deep understanding on art, especially the people in the government to give more focus on it.

She hopes that the government will make things easy for the private sector in facilitating and building more venues for art promotion. “Just make things easy for us,” she said, adding that they are being taxed on Philippine artworks brought back from international exhibitions.

First time to see Art Basel Hong Kong, Filipino private art collector Andrew Benedicion expressed his bias with the Art Fair Philippines, a major exhibition of modern and contemporary Philippine visual art.

Although the artworks in Art Basel were nice, he said, it is “very generic looking.” The lighting in the halls were bright and the white walls of every booth drenched the entire space, creating a sense of monotony.

Benedicion likes the gritty effect of the Philippines’ fair that was held inside a carpark with darker lighting.

This also explains why he still wants to collect Filipino artworks besides being a Filipino. It is the raw and gritty feel of Philippines contemporary art that appeals to him.

High quality photos make a selfie studio prevail

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Amid teeming monopods being sold cheap in the city’s street markets, locals still go to selfie studios for good quality photos.  Banking on such demand, three entrepreneurs had savored success after the first year of its start-up company that stands for their youthfulness.

“Our name says it all,” Snaparty co-founder Vien Wong, 25, said Friday. It is a combination of “snap” that means taking photo and “party” as the place is also rented out for parties and meetings.

The company got its return on investment with a capital of 700,000 Hong Kong dollars a year after its inception in November 2013, said 26-year-old co-founder Alan Li.

Located in one of the old buildings in bustling Mong Kok district, Snaparty can hold up to 30 people.

It has two rooms as selfie or do-it-yourself studios, a living room with a sofa facing an LCD display screen connected to the Internet and Apple iMac desktop computer, a dining table and toilet.

The walls have shelves of stuffed toys, hats, party sunglasses and other colorful props for different occasions. Wi-Fi is available for everyone inside the room.

Each studio has customized tripod, DSLR camera, a stationary flash umbrella, LCD screen and a small sound system that can play mp3 files from both Android and Apple smartphones. Customers can choose their backdrop from painted canvas of various themes mounted on the wall.   

Specifically designed for the studio, the tripod has wheels and holds a DSLR camera with levers to move it up and down, left and right. Instead of looking at the camera’s viewfinder, customers can see through the screen that can be adjusted up to 360 degrees to synchronize with the camera’s position.

After achieving the best angle, one can press the remote control button to shoot. Instantly, the picture shows up in the screen.

SNAPARTY VIEN WONG PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Adjusting the camera’s angle using the levers of a customized tripod, Snaparty co-founder Vien Wong says the market for selfie studios in Hong Kong has been saturated on March 6 in Mong Kok. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

Having a pool of equipment that work well together is the key to have quality pictures and services, Wong said. Seeking professional advice was a good move, she added.

Kayu Chan, 24, also co-founder, is the photography master in the group, while Li, who works as bank consultant, takes care of the company’s financial matters.

Their cameras, Canon EOS 70D, are “not the latest, not the most expensive,” Wong said, but suitable for the environment with the flash umbrella and lights in the room.

“No need for Photoshop,” she said and laughed. Customers can automatically upload their photos online using the computer and/or print them through a compact printer, Canon Selphy cp800.

The printer was Wong’s choice as she has been using it at home and satisfied with its output quality. More expensive than the Canon, Fujifilm portable printer prints customers’ photos in the size of business cards, Wong said.

Printing costs HK$6 per 4R photo and HK$12 per business card size photo.

To rent a studio for an hour costs HK$100 with as many as 3,005 photos taken based on its customers’ record.

One of the first two selfie studios in Hong Kong, Snaparty remains afloat, thanks to word-of-mouth and free promotions online, Wong said, noting Phocus as the other company.

Since the recent holidays, the market has been saturated with at least 20 selfie studios that emerged in the city, Wong noted.

Photography is among the creative industries that are important in promoting Hong Kong’s creative economy, according to Hong Kong Ideas Centre’s study.

“But, we are not so optimistic on the Hong Kong market,” Wong said. Snaparty considered branching out in other countries, especially South Korea and Malaysia, she added.

SNAPARTY CO-FOUNDERS PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Snaparty co-founders (left to right) Vien Wong and Alan Li say their company’s motto is to make sure that their “customers carry a smile upon leaving the door” on March 6 in their space in Mong Kok.

Hong Kong food waste reduction counts on children, creativity

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — The city is counting on the younger generations in solving the problem on food waste, while being creative in promoting sustainable habits.

The Environment Bureau launched last December the pre-primary environmental education kit to raise children’s awareness of protecting resources and reducing food waste. It points out that childhood is “an important part of environmental education.”

The bureau also prompted the education sector to cultivate among children the culture of “use less, waste less,” which is the theme of the government’s food waste plan launched in February 2014.

Supported by different sectors, the Environmental Campaign Committee set up last June an internet platform called “Waste Less School” for kindergarten, primary and secondary students. It aims to promote “zero food waste” among children, extend awareness through school events and encourage the public “to change their behavior.”

In its plan, the government aims to cut the disposal rate to landfill of municipal solid waste on a per capita basis by two-fifth in 2022. It says the critical part is to reduce food waste production.

Food waste here reached 3,600 tons every day in 2011. Households produced two-thirds of it. The rest came from food-related commercial and industrial establishments.

The amount of food waste from households had increased from 786,200 tons in 2008 to 925,200 tons in 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Department.

“Apparently, it is still more effective to start the environmental education at home,” said Wise Wong, who used to teach at the York International Kindergarten. Children learn the value of conserving food from their parents first, she added.

Sandy Zeng from Hung Hom district said she occasionally takes her 4-year-old daughter to a farm to show where their food came from. The child can see the tedious processes of planting and harvesting vegetables in the farm, and learn to give importance to the food and its sources, Zeng said.

Since the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign began in May 2013, schools have done various activities and platforms for their students to participate in reducing food waste.

Meanwhile, Wong said it is effective to use animation characters to instill the values among children, especially if the ones being used are their favorite cartoons. “It’s like having a role model in a creative and fun way,” she added.

Cartoon character “Big Waster” that symbolizes food wastage in the FWHK Campaign “is gradually gaining popularity,” according to its press release. It also went online to interact with the public, especially the young generation, through its Facebook page.

"Big Waster" of Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign poses in a poster retrieved from its Facebook page.
“Big Waster” of Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign poses in a poster retrieved from its Facebook page.

However, it is yet to be surveyed how Hong Kong people respond to animation characters and mascots of environmental and other campaigns, said Ms. Wong of the industry support section of Create Hong Kong that has the mandate to boost creative industries.

CreateHK held in 2013 the first mascot design competition here for “Hong Kong: Our Home” Campaign. Its four themes each with a mascot were “Hip Hong Kong,” “Vibrant Hong Kong,” “Caring Hong Kong,” and “Fresh Hong Kong.”

HK labor unions say new minimum wage ‘unreasonable’

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Labor leaders were dissatisfied with the city’s new statutory minimum wage rate at 32.50 Hong Kong dollars an hour, effective on May 1. They vowed to continue their fight for workers’ welfare.

The minimum wage is “unreasonable, especially if the worker is a breadwinner,” Wong Pit-man, head secretary of the Eating Establishment Employees General Union, said last Saturday.

It is short by HK$7.2 from the proposal (HK$39.7/hour) of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, Ip Wai Ming, its deputy director, said Thursday.

Both labor leaders said the minimum wage is barely for survival, “while the government thinks it is enough for one person.”

The federation has its formula in computing the minimum wage to catch up with the inflation rate for a worker and a dependent to afford a standard living.

Since the government began implementing the statutory minimum wage policy in 2011, the HKFTU proposed an increase of minimum hourly rate to HK$33 from HK$28. In 2013, it was raised to HK$30 per hour.

For establishment owners such as M. Aslam, director of the Family Provision and Fast Food Co., HK$32.5 an hour is “still not enough,” considering the high prices of commodities and housing rent.

“No one will want the job. It’s good if it’s HK$40 (an hour),” said Lam, a regular employee of grocery chain, Wellcome, in Kowloon.

HKFTU Ip Wai Ming PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Ip Wai Ming, deputy director of Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, says workers are unhappy with the new minimum wage on Feb. 5 in Kowloon. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

On the contrary, the minimum wage increase “will benefit tens of thousands of low-income employees and encourage more people to join the labor market,” Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his policy address in January.

Hong Kong’s total working population rose to 3.92 million as of 2014 from 3.86 million in 2013, according to government statistical data.

“Just surviving,” minimum wage earners comprise 10 percent of the total number of workers in 2013 after the minimum wage rise, Ip said.

Most of them are cleaners, security guards and health care givers. One-third of them work part time, especially in catering industries, he cited.

Despite the enforcement of statutory minimum wage rate, Wong said workers in the Chinese catering sector only had 2 percent increase of average salary over the past decade.

A large number of workers out of some 8,500 members of EEEGU are underpaid, he said, having long working hours and poor working conditions.

He cited that pantry delivery and cleaning workers have an average salary of HK$8,000 to HK$9,000, dishwashers HK$10,000, waiters/waitress HK$11,000, and Chinese chef HK$18,000.

Meanwhile, not many employers would dare to pay below minimum wage as most citizens are familiar with the labor laws, Ip said. Majority of underpaid workers are immigrants, who are hired for constructions, banquets, and other informal jobs by unregistered agents, he added.

Seeking for higher wages and improvement of working conditions of underpaid workers, the EEEGU had lobbied their concerns to the labor and welfare department. They had also organized meetings with local news reporters to inform the public of their gathered data and cases, Wong said.

For instance, he said, some employers attempted to cut headcounts as an excuse from the minimum wage increase, or cutting paid meal breaks in order to conform with the new wage requirements.

While convincing its members in the government to yield to their demands, the federation will also take it to the streets, Ip said.

Some 5,000 workers will join a mass demonstration on May 1 to push for their proposed minimum wage increase, among other demands, Ip said.