[Mayday Special] Fight back, you are not alone!

The price of freedom: self-employed, self-defense

Others might think that private instrument teachers earn well, but Heman, a musical instrument teacher for ten years sees it differently. “A private teacher's hourly wages are high, but the overall income is not high.”, she claims. She further explains that private teachers are mostly only busy at weekends, but even then, they are unable to work eight hours on a busy day. The overall income of a private music teacher is similar to an average worker. She even knows that some teachers do not have enough students and have to take up other part-time jobs, such as railway service officers, waiters, clerks, to make ends meet. “Even my mother describes me as a part-time worker, that really upsets me.” she shares.

 

Private instrument teachers either work for music schools as employees or as freelancers. Heman describes the music schools would demand half of the income as “commission”, and once a dispute breaks out, the music school would stop giving her new jobs. Heman experienced such a situation: she fought against the unreasonable conditions posed by the music school and the employer refused to give her new students. As a result, she chose to become a freelancer, to look for students and handle all potential risks herself. “Back wages is a common phenomenon, I think every freelancer has experienced this. The tuition fee came a week, two weeks or even a month later. In some cases,  students told me they had forgotten to bring tuition fee and then they stopped showing up at all.” As a freelancer, she is not able to collect all relevant personal information from her students, such as addresses, so it is difficult for her to claim missing wages.

 

Becoming freelancers is undeniable a trend. Hei-man wishes the society to start more discussion regarding their rights. The government should also be aware of such a change and regulate this new industry better.


Sufferance? How long then?

Yee has been a patient care assistant for six years and suffered workplace bullying for longer than she could remember. She recalls her supervisor gave her a poor appraisal by accusing her “your eyes can't smile”; told her to “wear diapers” after she applied for sick leave due to diarrhea; described her as “you look like a psychiatric patient” when she buttoned her shirt incorrectly. At first, Yee and her family thought she could handle it by tolerating these comments, but “the more I tolerate, the more bullying I suffer. If sufferance works, why could they bully me for so long?”. She started to get depression, insomnia, bad temper easily. Tolerance does not earn her peace.

 

Her ultimate concern is, if she keeps receiving poor work appraisal, she could not get another job easily. At a five-people meeting, four supervisors kept accusing her of being incapable, threatening her not to renew her contract and remove her from her job. She asked for an explanation but was insulted. “The supervisors told me to speak after 10 seconds. If I replied to their questions immediately, they would say I speak too fast;  when I counted to ten, then they claimed that I refused to answer them. They were just fooling around with me. I felt that my dignity was being trampled.” This meeting made her realize, there was no point to tolerate workplace bullying. She sought help from the union, forced the employer to investigate her appraisal reports. She felt that she was no longer fighting alone. After she held a press conference, her supervisors changed their attitudes, watched their tongues and stopped those so-called jokes. “Now I can go to work and really do my job, those tricks stop and nobody can bully me in the dark.”


Fight back, you are not alone!

In the face of injustice, do you choose to swallow the insult and shut up? Or would you stand up and fight back?

Pessimistically, you might think a small potato could never win over those strong institutions. You are probably right, if you stand alone, you will be crushed down in no time. But remember, you are not the only victim, when all victims stand together, the picture could change completely.  

The subcontracting system in the building industry makes construction workers very vulnerable to exploitation. In the past six months, the Construction Site Workers General Union has launched various industrial actions to help 680 workers, successfully claimed back an amount of HKD 20 million back wages.

When a Government's cleaning contract shifts to another subcontractor, it often lures workers to “voluntarily terminate labour relations” in order to avoid paying severance compensation. The Cleaning Service Industry Workers Union organized workers from Hoi Lai Housing Estate and other estates to launch strikes and finally forced the government to reform this unjust mechanism and introduce a gratuity payment to workers.

Over-tiredness leads to higher frequency of accidents. Bus-drivers union has launched an action to demand “better basic wages and lower working hours”, successfully raised the average basic wages from HKD12,536 to HKD16,464 and reduced the maximum daily working hours. The Ocean Park Employees Union also fought for its grassroots workers to reduce the weekly hours from 48 to 44. Thus grassroots workers would have the same workweek as office employees, without their pay being cut.

These examples clearly show: solidarity is the key to bring real changes! “A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong” is an ancient saying we have grown up hearing, but only through practice, we can feel its power. Have you suffered enough? It is time to stand up and step out, say no to exploitation! Say no to repression! Say no to bullying!


01/05/2019 (Wednesday)|2 P.M.|From Victoria Park to Government Headquarters|Enquiry:27708668