Working Poverty and Labour Rights
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Working poverty and labour rights

Liu Ka-yee's ‘Cleaner's Theme Park’ which was displayed at ‘Poverty. Full-time.’ An art exhibition on working poverty. (Photo: Ducky Tse)

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The Situation

Working poverty has become a serious issue. According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2020, before policy intervention, over 805,000 people made up the working poor in Hong Kong. Since the minimum wage was introduced in 2011, it has always lagged behind inflation and has thus continued to keep many who work poor.

That is why Oxfam has continued to urge the government to review the minimum wage level to ensure it meets the basic needs of workers and their families. We are also calling on the government to review the minimum wage at least once a year so that it keeps up with inflation, and review its outsourcing system to protect low-income outsourced workers.

Employment Situation Amidst the Epidemic

Oxfam found that the number of poor and unemployed people had skyrocketed to 110,000 – 1.6 times more than Q2 last year, but the CSSA is not reaching most.

Hong Kong Poverty Report: Unemployment among the poor during COVID-19

Oxfam Hong Kong’s latest research reveals that the number of unemployed people from poor households this year soared to nearly 110,000, 75% of which could be outside the safety net of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme. 

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Outsourced Government Cleaners’ Working Conditions Amidst Epidemic

While distributing masks and hand sanitiser, we worked with our partners to interview 149 cleaners from across 15 districts to understand cleaners’ working conditions during the epidemic. The results were announced at our joint press conference on 18 February; many interviewees said they were ill equipped. We thus urge the government and outsourced cleaning companies to provide cleaners with the protective equipment they need. Learn more here.

Making Poverty Wages

Madame Hing

‘Usually, people cover their noses when they’re around cleaners, but after the exhibition, some of the residents would cheer me on when they see me; they make me feel respected.’ 

-Madam Hing

Madam Hing is proud to see her own photo displayed at the exhibition, calling for care on the situations of grassroot workers. (Photo: Derek Yung)

‘The garbage stinks to high heaven, especially when I come in on summer mornings,’ said Madam Hing, who has been working as a cleaner for 11 years.

It’s not just the pungent odour she needs to deal with though. ‘When bags of rubbish fall through the refuse chute into the garbage bins, shards of glass and other rubbish fly in all directions, easily hurting anyone around,’ she said explaining the dangers of her work.

Hing works nine hours a day and makes minimum wage. She said, ‘Every day I throw out hundreds of kilograms of garbage and it’s quite physically taxing. Sometimes, I really wish I could take a day off to rest.’ Although labour laws require employees to take a day off for every six days of work, employers often pressure employees to continue working, using what little they make in a day as motivation and the lack of manpower as an excuse. This, however, means many low-income workers need to work continuously for extended periods of time.

Aside from long working hours, these workers also lack labour protection. ‘Every few years, employers make us sign new contracts so that we aren’t able to receive Long Service Payment,’ said Hing annoyedly. She went on, ‘Minimum wage is too low; it should be raised.’

To help the public better understand the challenges those in working poverty face, we partnered with photographer Ducky Tse to hold ‘Poverty. Full-time: An art exhibition on working poverty’ in January 2017. Not only did the exhibition draw many visitors, it also garnered much media attention and helped the wider public better understand and even change their attitudes towards low-income workers.

Oxfam has long been concerned about the difficulties low-income workers face. That’s why we’ll continue fighting to bring change to labour laws. We’re doing everything from calling on the government to review minimum wage and ensuring it keeps up with inflation, to urging it to improve labour protection for those employed under non-continuous contracts.


'Street cleaners are the true pride of Hong Kong!'

- Ng On-yee

Women’s world snooker champion Ng On-yee got a taste of what being a cleaner was like, as she took part in curator Ducky Tse’s photo shoot for  the exhibition. 


Poverty. Full-time

Poverty. Full-time. 

In January 2017, Oxfam partnered with photographer Ducky Tse to organise ‘Poverty. Full-time. An art exhibition on working poverty’. Eleven visual art teams participated in it to encourage the public to reflect on the value of labour. Learn more about the exhibition below.

Learn more


Together, we can transform more lives!

Give once Donate monthly

Oxfam’s Policy research and advocacy (selected)

may 2022就「檢討法定最低工資水平」的意見書 (Chi Only)
APR 2022陽性結果網上申報程序繁複 僱傭修訂條例未通過 基層工友難獲應得病假津貼 (Chi Only)
jan 2022Omicron變種病毒致本港疫情反彈 樂施會關注清潔工友的生計及安全狀況 (Chi Only)
APR 2021‘Public satisfaction with Budget’ survey
Dec 2o2oHong Kong Poverty Report: COVID-19's Effects on Unemployment and the Poor
mar 2020Employment Situation Amidst the Epidemic
Dec 2018Report on Hong Kong Living Wage Research
oct 2018Hong Kong Inequality Report
jun 2017Research on Low-Income Casual Work in Hong Kong