Climate change is threatening the health of cleaning workers, Government Mod 1 Staff General Union and Greenpeace jointly warned today. Unable to be exempted from the effect of global warming, extreme hot weather in Hong Kong becomes more frequent and the average temperature is also climbing, adversely impacting outdoor workers. For the sake of protecting worker's health, the union and Greenpeace urged the Government to take lead in introducing a daily break for outdoor workers. The groups also suggested that, as a fundamental way to solving the problem of climate change, power plants' emission of greenhouse gas must be curbed.
A survey to push the introduction of break for outdoor works was conducted by the Government Mod 1 Staff General Union in August. 201 workman II grade staffs of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department were interviewed and nearly all of them need to work outdoor for long hours. Up to 90% of them experience increasing temperature during work, and more than 90% have encountered sickness during outdoor works. Among them 43% suffered dizziness, 38% suffocation, 36% exhaustion, 32% panting, serious cases such as shock (9%) and heatstroke (9%) also occurred. The survey concludes that extreme hot weather is a dangerous threat to workers.
The nearly unanimous agreement to heat in Hong Kong is more than a collective impression but backed up by hard scientific facts. According to the measurement of Hong Kong Observatory, the average annual mean temperature of the previous decade is 1.5 degree Celsius higher than that in the 19th century, resembling the general trend of global warming.
The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also warned that the increasing frequency of extreme hot weather is one of the adverse consequences of climate change. Matching nearly perfectly with IPCC's conclusion, there were 660 "very hot days" (days with a maximum temperature of 33 degree Celsius or above) between 1945 and 2004, 4 times more than the figure from 1885 to 1944 (147 days).
"Workers should not bear the cost of temperature rise! Greenhouse gas produced from fossil fuel burning is responsible for climate change, and power plants are unquestionably the biggest among different sources of greenhouse gas. It is ridiculous that the government is implementing no policy to restrict power plants' emission." Frances Yeung, Greenpeace campaigner asserted.
Although adequate rest is essential for workers against the hardship and threat of climate change, more than 30% of interviewees never took any break even if they felt exhausted or unwell, the survey told. Even for those who did take their own break, 79% of them worry about possible complaints from Quality Assurance Officers, 64% express concern about being judged as lazy, 49% fear punishment from senior, and 29% complain that they are not legally entitled to any right to take a break. Over 90% agree that outdoor cleaning workers should be entitled break at work and more than 70% agree that 20 minutes is appropriate.
Mr. Wong Wah-hing, Chairman of Government Mod 1 Staff General Union, pointed out that, "Affluent as Hong Kong might be seemed by any standard, working conditions here are however even far worse than those in mainland China!" He took Shenzhen as an example, "The government enacted a law in 2005, requiring that no work is allowed when temperature exceeds 40 degree Celsius; working time should be limited to 4 hours when temperature reaches 38 degree Celsius; workers have to work in shift when temperature reaches above 35 degree Celsius,." He complained that the Hong Kong government doesn't even have any guideline dealing with extreme hot weather.
Government Mod 1 Staff General Union and Greenpeace believe in the mutual relationship between the environment and human. They urged the Hong Kong government to take the lead to introduce a break of 20 minutes per day for outdoor workers in a way to protect them from the adverse impacts of climate change. And to tackle the problem at its root, they maintained that the government must restrict greenhouse gas emission from power plants.