Lack of jobs and masks strains Hong Kong’s grassroots

Street cleaners. Photo: Robi Gallardo

HONG KONG (SE): A recent survey on grassroots families by Caritas Community Development Service showed that over half of the respondents are facing financial strains as they were told to take unpaid leave. On the other hand, the lack of protective gear during the Covid-19 pandemic has left many with no choice but to remain confined at home.

The findings of the survey, carried out from February to March, were released during a press conference on March 9. 

Financial difficulty is a big problem as over 50 per cent of respondents said they were told to take unpaid leave, reduce their working hours or be prepared for layoffs. They said the lack of income caused them serious stress.

Moreover, nearly half of the interviewees said the number of masks they stored at home would be used up in two weeks, which limited their daily activities.

Almost 80 per cent said they had not gone out for three days to save on masks. 

During the conference, a mother shared about her difficulties living in a subdivided flat with her husband and five-year-old son. As her son had no school she needed to stop her part time work to take care of him meaning the family income was reduced to the earnings of her husband, a construction worker. 

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The mother said the family could not find a single mask at home at the beginning of the outbreak. She fortunately was given some from non-government organisations and was later able to buy some through the company she works for. 

She said the masks she bought were expensive so they were mainly for her husband to use at work, however, he still needed to reuse them two to three times. 

She said she could only go out every three days to save on the use of masks. Her son, who was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, became very emotional when he was told to stay at home. As his caretaker at home, the mother said was under lot of pressure.

Another interviewee, a driver by profession who lives in a subdivided flat, said he only had over 10 masks at home. He could not afford a box of them, as it costs several hundred dollars. He was happy that he received some from friends and charity groups. He said he did not have much work and his employer recently told him to take unpaid leave, while his savings may not be enough to help. 

Wong Wai-hon, a social worker from Caritas, said that to relieve the burden of the grassroots, the government should coordinate the distribution of protective items so that everyone has an equal share. 

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The group also called on the government to take the lead in creating more jobs, like it did during the SARS epidemic in 2003, to help the less competitive workers. It also urged people under stress to seek help from social welfare groups by phone or through the Internet.

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