According to a recent survey from the Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, over 70 percent of the outsourced public toilet cleaners said their contractors did not arrange suitable places for them to have meals. Many workers complained that they were forced to eat in cramped duty rooms that were full of miscellaneous items such as cleaning equipment, but no fridge or microwave oven. In some cases, there was no fan or ventilation system in the duty room.
In the wake of the findings, the survey group slammed the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the outsourced contractors, accusing them of being inhumane toward the cleaning workers. It called on authorities to improve the working conditions of the cleaning staff when carrying out a HK$600 million public toilet refurbishment project that had been announced by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po in his recent Budget.
While Hong Kong is a wealthy and advanced society, citizens often find public toilets run by the FEHD in the city far below acceptable standard, and sometimes downright repulsive. So what is the underlying factor for such state of affairs?
The inhumane working conditions to which outsourced public toilet cleaners are subjected to, in a sense, tell us where things have gone wrong in relation to the public sanitation facilities.
Simply put, the government has never taken the so-called “toilet culture” seriously over the years, hence the poor management and maintenance of public toilets across the territory.
One defining feature of the public toilets in Hong Kong is that they are usually smelly and wet. And some people have blamed that on the public, accusing them of not being civic-minded enough when using the toilets.
True, it is undeniable that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the toilet habits of Hong Kong citizens.
However, in our opinion, if the public toilets can always be kept clean and hygienic, it can prevent further deterioration in the problem of shortfall in civic mindedness among public toilet users.
Given the situation, we definitely welcome the government’s initiative to spend HK$600 million on refurnishing 240 public toilets across the city.
But we feel compelled to point out that what is equally important is that Hong Kong needs a sustainable “toilet revolution”, under which the working conditions of public toilet cleaners must be improved and humane working conditions provided.
Also, there should be much more rigorous management of these facilities.
If the public toilets are not smelly and wet, with the help of better public education, we believe the public toilet users are likely to more civic-minded when they use the facilities.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 15
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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