縫衣婦訴苦 Seamstress complains of hardship


A group of Chinese women were working at home sewing clothes. They had extremely low wages and could not afford to stop sewing for a short chat. They hoped the journalists from The Times to publicize their situation, which may help improve their payment in the future.


The way westerners make money can be extremely easy. It seems like they are able to make a thousand pieces of gold within seconds. It can also be extremely hard. Endless and arduous labour can barely feed oneself and keep themselves warm. It is not uncommon to see how different from individuals to individuals. Now here is a story that some people who are in extreme poverty and hardship sent letters to seek help. Anyone who hears story like this would be skeptical. However, when a western newspaper in Sydney heard this story, they dispatched some journalists to investigate. When listening to it, the chief writer recorded the original story. As it was The Times in New South Wales, it guarantees the truthfulness of the story.

When the journalists just went into the interviewees’ residence, they saw two middle-aged and two young women about sixteen and eighteen years old respectively. Later they saw the furniture in the house. There were only a few old sewing machines, broken chairs, and a table in the kitchen. Two rough straw paper sheets were used to cover the table and turned it into a dining one. There were a few cups with rough surfaces caused by a lack of cleanliness. There was a flour dough without any oil. A white tin was used to store sugar. In a plate, a leftover fish could be seen. There was no time to clean up the countertop as all of the females rushed back to work after each meal.

The sewing machines were in operation, making sound like constant bees humming. When the four workers saw the journalists come in, they only took a quick side glance without greeting or asking. Then these visitors asked, “you seem to have no interest to look outside but only concentrate on your work.” A woman responded, “nothing else can help us put food on the table. We have to work from early morning to mid-night every day. Weekend is no exception or the income would not be extremely low.” when it comes to chitchatting, we are not lucky enough to do that.” A few more questions were then asked. They kept responding, “We four stick together. We are not willing to work in factories so we took the work home. The labour party government allowed us to be employed outside the factory due to personal reasons, family, and reluctance to work with others. We would rather be stuck here because of unspeakable reasons. The wages we get paid at home are limited by the labour party government. Despite the assistance that the government provides, our employer is full of tricks. They take the money from our wages, which is becoming even worse. If the employer had compassion, you would not see us emaciated and haggard.” “Our state of mind is not as healthy as others. It’s because we constantly lower our head and work until midnight every day. In the last few weeks, we worked around the clock to get the work done. There were only some cups for tea. Neither fish nor meat was seen on table. There are many women who are married to a poor husband and get overwhelmed by children so they cannot work in factories. There are also reasons such as husbands who are heavy drinkers or ill. Working at home is just better than doing away with their own lives. Now we inform the newspaper of the low wages we are paid, hoping you could empathize with us. Whenever sewing a man’s trousers, we have to spend so much time thinking before working on them. We have to concentrate and not able to leave the work before completion.”

When it comes to wages, the whole process of sewing the buttons on the pants only charges six shillings for a dozen. Expensive pants could be charged up to nine shillings. Two physically strong women who are healthy and no children to look after could sew twelve trousers if they work from six in the morning to around ten at night. They are paid a few shillings for every X excluding the rent, food, needles and thread, soap, oil for the lamps, and the cost for maintaining the sewing machine.”

Finishing sewing, they deliver the products and beg for money. These people are the hardest labourers. During the interview, we listened to their voice, looked at their appearance, and heard their sighing. When asking them some follow-up questions, they responded that the overseer was a monster alike. People call him an animal. “I had four pants sent back. They pulled them apart with all their might like a soldier pulling a cable. When the thread was torn off, they reprimanded and asked us to resew them.

Later, every single item was checked by other people who were familiar with sewing. Over half a dozen were recalled to be fixed up. If detested by the person who checks the finished items, all the sewn clothes will be taken back due to any dissatisfaction” one woman said. “So why not cease this job and undertake something else?” the journalists asked. “If you sew white clothes, even if the pay could be slightly higher, the cost can be up to two to six shillings. It depends on the price of the materials. It’s no different of receiving alms as it is hard to earn twelve shillings each week. After deducting the cost of needle and thread, lamp oil, and repairing the machine, it would be extremely lucky to earn one pound for a week.” It is obvious that women who sew clothes are doing the cheapest job. What they earn ranges from seven and half shillings to one pound. Once a woman brought two silky singlets and the material was high quality. We charged five shillings but it was as painful as “cutting her body. I know a woman who thinks highly of herself who dared to sew the clothes that men wear at night. She charged nine and half pence for each suit. She strained every nerve and was able to finish two suits. Today we are grateful that you are here to visit. I am telling you all the truth. Even though you are willing to help, it would still be reluctant to raise our pay for our labour. If our pay is raised to one pound and five shillings each week, hundreds of workers like us in Sydney will appreciate the good ethics of The Times”, the woman said.


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