5:04pm 05/01/2023
A cafeteria manned by seniors

KOTA KINABALU: More than half of the staff working at Hock Seng Cafeteria at the Kepayan Commercial Center in Kota Kinabalu are senior citizens, making the cafeteria different from the other eateries in town.

The senior citizens take orders from patrons, serve food and drinks, wash the dishes and also operate as cashiers at the 25-year-old cafeteria famous for its buns, pastries, noodles and others.

The acute shortage of workers has become worse during the Covid-19 pandemic, and young people are reluctant to work at the cafeteria.

To solve the problem of manpower shortage, Hock Seng Cafeteria, a traditional Hainanese coffee shop now run by its third generation owner, started to hire senior citizens about a year ago.

The average age of the staff at the cafeteria is 62.5 years while the combined age of its eight staff is 500.

Huang Cui Mei, the cafeteria’s 61-year-old owner, said her husband and two sons are working at the cafeteria too. And four of the workers are above the age of 60.

Huang used to hire locals and foreign workers over the years, but she admitted that staff turnover was high.

“Young people look for high-pay jobs and many opt to work in Singapore and West Malaysia.

“They are not willing to work during festive seasons and public holidays. Many prefer to scroll their phones even when they are working,” she said.

Huang said she noticed that many people lost their jobs during the pandemic and it was hard for the elderly to look for new jobs.

She started to hire the elderly as one way of easing the problem of staff shortage at her cafeteria.

“Not everyone can retire from work. Many are still required to support their families as their children may not be able to provide financial support.

“I started to divide work among the staff, including myself, to share the workload. At times I wash the toilet too,” she said.

Huang offered the workers accommodation and meals besides their salary.

She also offers insurance coverage and paid sick leave if they fall ill so that the workers are willing to continue to work at the cafeteria.

Auntie Liu is saving up for her children’s university education (L); cafeteria owner Huang Cui Mei is constantly busy with her work.

60-year-old single mother Auntie Liu works at the cafeteria to save money for her children’s education.

To look after her children, she quit her job 19 years ago.

Once a school bus driver, Liu hopes her two children are able to study in university.

“No company would want to hire people at 60 years of age. I am grateful that the owner of this cafeteria is willing to give me a job. I still can work at this age,” she said.

Wu Qun Ying, 66, works to supplement her family income.

“My two daughters give me money but they have to raise their own families, too.

I have never thought of stopping work. The job here is neither tough nor tiring,” said the mother of seven who has worked as a housekeeper and dish washer. She also slaughtered chicken for a living.

James, 60, a lorry driver, is now a worker at the cafeteria.

He takes up the job barely three months ago.

James sustained leg injuries while loading and unloading bulky goods from the lorry.

The cafeteria job which offers accommodation and meals provides him a stable income.

A former lorry driver, James now finds a safe and stable job at the cafeteria (L); Wu Qun Ying seems to handle her dish-washing work pretty well.




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