Positions

On March 26th, 2017, Hong Kong will witness the result of the Fifth Term Chief Executive Election and the dawn of a new administration for the next five years.  However, among her some seven million inhabitants, only a few privileged will be eligible to vote as the electoral college, which sole function is to elect the Chief Executive is only consisted of 1,200 people who are heavily represented by Beijing Loyalists and business elites.  As for the rest of the public, the election represents nothing more than an urban gossip.

 

Among the three candidates, both Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor and John Tsang Chung-wah were top government officials from the previous administration, while another candidate, Woo Kwok-hing is a retired judge.  According to various sources, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Zhang Dejiang received a number of Election Committees in Shenzhen early February to consolidate the pro-establishment camp’s support for Carrie Lam, which made her become the default frontrunner in the CE Election, despite trailing John Tsang considerably in terms of public support.  As a result, Carrie Lam was able to attain 572 qualifying nominations from a total of 1,194, only 28 short of the votes required to win the election with rumours that she still has nominations in hand that has not been submitted.  In contrast, regardless of his overwhelming public support, John Tsang could only obtain 160 nominations with the majority coming from the pro-democratic camp.

 

By interfering at such an early stage, it is obvious that top government officials from Beijing would want to secure as many votes as possible for Carrie Lam in order to avoid the backlash of the low support Leung Chun-ying received in 2012.  Despite the outcome of the election, the huge discrepancy between public opinions and the number of nominations only further highlights the absurdity of the electoral system.  The narrow electoral basis not only allows Beijing to ascertain her preferred candidates in winning the election, it also gives her a strong hand to control the margin of victory.  In short, with the Election Committee dominated by the pro-establishment camp and business sectors (approx. 450 and 300 votes respectively), the outcome of the CE Election will be decided by two interests—the Beijing interest and the business interest.  Because without the blessing from these two factions, no candidate will be able to secure the 601 votes required to win the final election.  As a result, any candidate who intends to stand a viable chance to win the election will have to be ultimately accountable to the interests of the above factions, and this is reflected in their election platforms.  In fact, many labour and social welfare issues remain unanswered in the candidates’ platforms.  For instance, both Carrie Lam and her arch-rival, John Tsang, do not endorse the legislation on Standard Working Hours, while all three candidates are either ambiguous or unsupportive on issues such as Universal Retirement Scheme and Collective Bargaining.  Carrie Lam even went on to proclaim that she was “not a socialist” at an early stage of her campaign in an attempt to secure support from the business sector.  And just like their predecessors, inclination towards the business sector will continue to dictate the policy-making approach of the new administration.

 

Without genuine universal suffrage, the interests of top Beijing officials and business cartels will remain the deciding factors behind the CE Election.  Hong Kongers cannot be disillusioned to think that labour rights and public interests will be on the top of any candidate’s agenda who is seriously challenging for the top job.  Hardliners or moderators alike, it is conceivable that the Chief Executive-elect will only continue to follow his/her predecessors’ tradition in bowing to Beijing and business interests.  If Carrie Lam is to win the election as many may predict, it is a further proof of an unjust electorate system that disregard public opinions and public interests will be increasingly marginalized in future CE Elections.

Passing hope on in the midst of stormy times: An interview with two HKCTU chairpersons

16

Nov 2016

 This summer, the HKCTU has experienced two elections, with two very different outcomes and prospects. In July 2016, a new chairperson was elected at Executive Committee Election and in September, General Secretary, Lee Cheuk-yan, lost his seat in the Legislative Council Election. How do the veteran chairperson Pun Tin-chi and newly elected chairperson Carol Ng see these changes of time?

 

Tin-chi and Carol are leaders with very different styles and have led Hong Kong’s independent labour movement in different eras. Nicknamed as “the Schoolmaster”, Tin-chi used to be an executive member of Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and had participated in the labour movement for decades. “Leading decades of labour movement, the Schoolmaster is very experienced, mature, and assured on many issues. You can tell from the way he runs meetings. He gives thorough analysis on social issues with his unique perspectives. These all made him a convincing leader.” Carol’s portrayal of the Schoolmaster is also shared by many others. Indeed, “down to earth” is his philosophy in union governance. He concluded his term of office at the HKCTU by quoting the late Mr. Szeto Wah’s lecture, “Uncle Wah used to tell us, people and money are mostly essential elements of a union. During my chairmanship at the HKCTU, my priority was to develop membership base and maintain financial stability with some achievements. What delights me most is, affiliates are now starting to take membership and income more seriously”, the Schoolmaster talks in his usual gentle, loving fatherly tone. After serving six years as the chairman, he built a solid foundation for the HKCTU and the incumbent president of the HKCTU will surely continue to support labour movement in another position.

 

If the Schoolmaster is a loving father, then Carol Ng plays a role of a comrade. “As a leader, my priority is definitely the public’s interest and a full consideration of the overall situation. I also set a good example and hope that I could motivate others to join”, Carol talks about her philosophy to lead. She does not want to be a general only giving commands, but also a comrade to march alongside the people. “Carol indeed has more experiences in actions than I do.”, the Schoolmaster sees her as a leader who is always ready to fight. “From the lawsuits against union discrimination, to her efforts in extending cabin crew’s retirement age and the recent ‘bag-gate’ incident, Carol always shows us her determination to fight till the end with the people.”

 

When talked about HKCTU’s future challenges, they both stressed youth recruitment as their priority. The Schoolmaster sees having a young chairperson is an important move to recruit young people, “having a young chairperson can set a cornerstone for the union to recruit young people and encourage our youth members to participate labour movement.” Carol believes that the union must keep abreast of time and follow the social trend, “technology develops rapidly and we should keep updating our ways in communication to serve our members’ needs. Yet the core of labour movement is always organizing and the HKCTU should keep itself updated and learn from its experience, to reach the goals it has set for the next three years.”

 

Shortly after the HKCTU’s Executive Committee Election, Carol has to face the unexpected defeat of Lee Cheuk-yan at the Legislative Council Election. Though Carol and the Schoolmaster are still upset, they are certain that they would move on and keep their hopes alive for the next Legislative Council Election four years later. “Losing the seat is definitely a bad news. But how can we make the best out of it? The defeat shows that our membership and organizing effort are not strong enough to secure Lee’s seat and we have to work harder to recruit members and consolidate our members’ support in future”, the Schoolmaster says. Carol thinks that HKCTU should adopt some changes, “though we lose the seat, we should not lose our hopes. We should learn from our mistakes and do better. In future, the HKCTU should strengthen its cooperation with the Labour Party, to have better labour division in policy advocacy, in order to maximize the synergistic effect between the two actors in social movement. We should also strengthen our organizing and reduce our dependency on legislators. The election campaign should start now”

 

Both chairpersons disagreed that while Hong Kong people’s political awareness keeps raising, the importance of labour issues declines. “Inequality still remains in labour relations. Though HKCTU achieved to get legal minimum wages legislated, the government are still sided with capitalists and labour conflicts exist everywhere. We should work hard to eliminate these kind of conflicts.” “We should broaden our thoughts, as long as you are employed, regardless of your occupations and ranks, you are a worker and you are exploited at your workplace. Labour issues might get less attention at the moment, but it does not mean that labour conflicts do not exist. We have to make all workers realize the importance of eliminating these exploitations”, the Schoolmaster concluded his decades of union work with this statement.

 

Two chairpersons with different styles and perspectives: one stresses foundation while the other looks into innovation. Yet, they both take organizing and promoting independent labour movement as their ultimate quest. It is clear that the path is rocky, but they will work together, base on a solid foundation and look out for new ideas. Under their leadership, HKCTU would be ready for every challenge ahead. 

HKCTU statement calling for general strike on Sep 29

28

Sep 2014

HKCTU strongly condemns the police crackdown of people’s protest by Hong Kong government

Calling all workers in Hong Kong to participate in a general strike on September 29

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) strongly condemns the police for their violent attack on unarmed students and people. We strongly condemn the government for suppressing the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly in Hong Kong. HKCTU calls for all workers in Hong Kong to strike tomorrow, in protest of the ruling of the National People’s Congress, as well as the brutal suppression of peaceful protest by the Hong Kong government. Workers and students must unite to force the totalitarian government to hand state power back to the people.

Since the peaceful assembly outside the Government Headquarter on September 26th, thousands of people join and support the assembly. The ever growing number of people maintained peace and order. Yet, the police attacked the protestors heavily with pepper spray, baton and riot squads armed with shields and helmets, while people who only had towels and umbrellas to protect themselves. In face of several rounds of suppression, protestors only raised their hands up without fighting back. In the evening of September 28th, the police furthered their attack with several rounds of tear gas. Many peaceful protestors were injured.  

Workers must stand up against the unjust government and violent suppression. Workers must stand up, as the totalitarian government has to back down when all workers protest in solidarity. To defend democracy and justice, we cannot let the students fight the suppression alone.

HKCTU hereby announces and calls all workers to participate in a general strike tomorrow.

We demand:

1)     Police must release the arrested protestors immediately. They must guarantee the basic human rights of the arrested protestors during retention.

2)     The government and police must stop suppressing the peaceful assembly and apologize to the people.

3)     National People’s Congress must withdraw the ‘fake universal suffrage’. The Hong Kong government must restart the consultation of political reform. Workers have been demanding a fair election system to rectify the longstanding problem of the business-leaning government. However, the ‘fake universal suffrage’ framework proposed by NPC is merely ‘old wine in a new bottle’.

4)     Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying must step down to bear the responsibility of violent suppression of protest.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

September 28th, 2014. 

 

Policies Relating to Migrant Domestic Workers and Regulations of Employment Agencies”

24

Feb 2014

Submission to the Legislative Council Panel on Manpower

(Special Meeting 21 February 2014)

by The Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions and

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions on

“Policies Relating to Migrant Domestic Workers and Regulations of Employment Agencies”

 

Erwiana’s case has raised concern in the local community regarding the life situation of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. It has also drawn attention to respective government policies as well as the severe exploitation employment agencies have had on these workers. It has been the ignoring attitude of the government that has rendered Hong Kong “the city of modern slavery”. In fact, cases of serious abuse are never new in Hong Kong. However, the government has always turned a deaf ear and allowed itself to drift along without learning any lesson or making any change to its policies. We believe the ordeal of Erwiana is not a case of exception. It reflects rather the predicaments of the domestic workers lacking help and support and is a situation that the government must look into.

The predicaments of the migrant domestic workers as revealed by Erwiana’s case are:

Although it is true that when the domestic workers first arrive in Hong Kong, the Immigration Department will give them information including Hong Kong laws etc. However, the information is often taken away by the staff of the employment agencies come to pick them up at the airport.

Some of the domestic workers who are new in Hong Kong (from countries including Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh etc) would be taken to the loan companies. Arrangements will then be made for them to apply for loans. Despite not being given any money or receipt, these workers will be obliged to re-pay the money via the convenience stores with the salaries of their first four to six months of work. Today, debt bondage is known internationally as a form of slavery.

As a result of the repayment scheduled for the first six months, migrant domestic workers are often deterred from making any complaint against employers’ abuse or poor working conditions. In Erwiana’s case, in spite of her appeal for help, she was sent back to her employer’s by the employment agency simply because she still had debt to repay.

Although the Immigration Department requires the employers to fill in details of the accommodation they have for their domestic helpers, it seldom verifies if the employers’ claims are true. As a result, many domestic workers have to sleep in the toilets or closets.

Since domestic workers are obliged by law to live in with their employers, they do not have their own accommodation. If they complain about any abuse, they will risk losing their job as well as their lodging.

Many migrant domestic workers still encounter problems of salary deduction or not having a weekly rest day. However, they cannot complain for it. If they do so, they will lose their job and accommodation. While employment agencies are unwilling to get them new jobs, their intention to work and earn money in Hong Kong will be in vain.

When the Panel on Manpower discussed the agency fees payable by domestic workers on 18 June last year, we strongly called upon the government to regulate these agencies. However, the Labour Department was perfunctory in its reply. The issue was then casually put aside. In hindsight, it was about the same period of time when Erwiana was sent back to her employer by the agency. Had the government been more responsive to our concern at that time, Erwiana might have already been saved from such brutal abuse. If Hong Kong does not want to be branded again as “the city of modern slavery”, we urge the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the Security Bureau and the Immigration Department to defend the foreign domestic workers’ basic rights by adopting the following measures without further delay.

A.      Set up tripartite meetings of labour, employers and government to formulate policies on foreign domestic workers

At present, there is a lack of transparency on policies relating to foreign domestic workers. Despite the uncovering of Erwiana’s case, the Labour Department and the Immigration Department continued to stay in a world of their own persuasion. They on one hand refused to meet with the labour unions, and on the other tried to muddle themselves through by proclaiming some oblivious policies. We would like to highlight that foreign domestic workers are not given any seat in the current official setups on labour issues, the Labour Advisory Board for instances.      

The Labour Department should take reference from the other trades and industries and establish a tripartite mechanism that will engage labour unions, employers’ associations and the Labour Department for any policy draft. Not only will this enhance transparency, it will also serve as the channel to collect views of the unions.

(B) Regulate employment agencies

Labour Department officers should check whether the employments agencies have confiscated the passports of the foreign domestic workers when they inspect these agencies. Receipts issued to the workers regarding agency fees should also be examined to ensure that no overcharge has been made.

Strengthen the penalties for overcharge of agency fees and confiscation of workers’ passports by imposing license suspension and not just fines.

Upload names of the employment agencies onto the Labour Department’s website if complaints against them are proved valid by the Department, so that employers can choose the law-abiding agencies as informed consumers.

Investigate seriously cases in which domestic workers are forced to apply for loans upon their arrival in Hong Kong and made to re-pay within the first six months of work without them actually receiving any of the loan money. Check if these loan companies and employment agencies have conducted any commercial crimes.

Instead of relying on employment agencies’ regular “interviews of the workers”, the Labour Department should take initiatives to draw their own samplings and scrutinize the life situation of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. The employment agencies have for long turned a blind eye on the abuses suffered by the foreign domestic workers. Some of them have gone as far as to cheat the workers for their money. To count on them is rather putting the cart before the horse.

 (C) Protecting the rights of foreign domestic workers

1.      For migrant domestic workers to be familiar with their rights, the Immigration Department and the Labour Department should prepare a briefing session for the workers upon their first arrival in Hong Kong. The session should cover topics including Hong Kong law and the telephone numbers they would need for seeking help. It should be conducted in the language of the workers and with the presence of the union representatives (but not the employment agencies). Employer to the domestic worker should also be obliged to take course on labour rights and benefit. This is to ensure that both parties know their respective rights and duties.

2.      To protect the complainant from being revenged by the employment agencies, the Labour Department officers should not give away the names of the worker(s) filing the complaint.

3.      In where migrant domestic workers usually gather, the Victoria Park and Kowloon Park, for instances, space should be allocated for unions of the migrant domestic workers to set up booths to provide assistance and consultation services to workers in need. 

 (D) Provide support to abused foreign domestic workers

The government should financially sponsor unions or NGOs for migrant domestic workers to set up shelters with sufficient places and facilities. There should also be 24-hour hotlines for help to be operated in the different languages of the domestic workers.

 

21 February 2014

Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

 

Sruggle In the Absence of Legal Framework Hong Kong’s Experience in Collective Bargaining

26

Aug 2013

Struggle In the Absence of Legal Framework

Hong Kong's Experience in Collective Bargaining

by Mung Siu Tat (Chief Executive, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions)

 

Background

During British rule, the Hong Kong colonial government has long pursued the "non-intervention” policy.  Whereas in labor relations policy, the practice was applied through a "voluntary consultation” approach, which allowed employers to oppress workers with little regulations.  As the Government has refused to pass legislation on the rights to collective bargaining, most corporate would not take the initiative to communicate with the trade unions or recognize the official status of trade unions.

 

Although the Government has set up the Labour Advisory Board, but the method of election is decided by a "winner take all" approach through a "one union one vote” system, therefore all six labour representatives in the Board are monopolized by the pro-government camp.  Furthermore, the Labour Advisory Board is nothing more than a "political vase”, the Board possesses little or none authority to exercise the function of tripartite consultation.

 

Hong Kong's independent trade union organization has long been marginalized from the establishment.  According to the figures in 2011, the unionization rate in Hong Kong stood at 23%, however the coverage of collective agreements was as low as less than 3%, which manifested many trade unions were not able to play an active role in collective bargaining.  Some unions may appeal to workers through providing benefits or services, which make them becoming service-oriented trade unions.  Other unions with higher labour rights awareness might try to organize workers through "crisis intervention", for instance, the pursue of back pay, welfare cuts, or other labor disputes, which encourage workers to unite and organize in collective actions.  However, the resolutions to these actions are usually swift, thus it is difficult to transform such actions into organizational strength in the workplace.

 

In face of the marginalization and exclusion policies from the establishment, independent labour movement in Hong Kong develops into an unique type of organization, which has a more distinct and non-institutionalized social movements background.  However, the leadership in the HKCTU also realized that since organizational capacity in workplaces is weak, it would be difficult to employ strike or industrial action as a means of labour struggle due to the lack of mass support.  In addition, the "crisis intervention” approach is also a passive means in maintaining membership, as the number of labour rights violation cases is decreasing, trade unions also have to face the crisis in membership decline.

 

Analysis on Movement Strategy

For these reasons, the HKCTU launched a three-year plan in promoting the rights to collective bargaining in 2009 and the plan completed its first phase in 2012.  The plan will enter its second stage from 2013 to 2015.  In 2009, the HKCTU invited her affiliates to participate in the "The Fight for Collective Bargaining Conference”, during which, the "rural encircles the urban” overall strategy was drawn up ─ that is, to fight for the implementation of collective bargaining at the enterprise level, when public acceptance and consensus gradually matures, it might be able to force the government to pass legislation on the rights to collective bargaining.  This strategy in itself means that we should not passively expect the Government to legislate, but to engage ourselves in a "trench warfare” that relies on a bottom-up organizational strategy.

 

In response to the above strategy, the HKCTU has designed various measurable indicators to assist affiliates in assessing their progress.  These progression indicators can be divided into four stages, the first stage is the union rights to represent members; the second stage is the union rights to represents workers in labour negotiation; the third stage is the union rights to organize union activities in workplace; the fourth stage is the union rights to conclude collective agreements with employers.  Each stage contains a number of measurable indicators of progress so that affiliates would be able to comprehend the content.

 

Three models of struggle can be summed up from past experience in the struggle for collective bargaining, which will be laid out as follows:

 

1. Collaborating Labor Movement and Social Movement

The most prominent example of this model is the 40 day-long dock workers’ strike from March to May, 2013 which fought for pay rise and union recognition.  The docks involved were operated by HIT (Hong Kong International Terminals), the company was a subsidiary of the Hutchison Whampoa Group, which belonged to the richest Chinese on earth, Mr. Li Ka-shing.  Before the strike broke out, The Dock Workers Union has already been collaborating with student interns to conduct questionnaires and distribute handbills in the docks area in demanding pay rise.  Therefore, during the initial stages of the strike, left-wing activist groups LEFT 21 played an active role in organizing a large number of college students to support the strike; on the other hand, they also help coordinating 10 NGO’s to establish the "The Alliance of Hong Kong Community in Supporting the Dock Workers Strike.”

 

During the strike, the Alliance mobilized the public to boycott Li Ka-shing's retailing businesses (such as Park n’ Shop, Watsons and Fortress, etc.), in order to make use of public opinion and their consumption behavior to exert further pressure on the employers.  Meanwhile, the HKCTU set up a strike fund and was able to raise a total of HK $ 8.9 million from the public to support more than 500 workers during this 40 day-long strike.  As a result, the employers agreed to increase the salary by about 10%, but the strike failed to force the employers in recognizing the official status of trade unions and signing wage agreements with them.  Nevertheless, the strike has raised significant public awareness in support of the collective bargaining legislation and reveals the inhumane oppression applied by big corporations on out-contracted workers.

 

In the highly monopolized economy, workers and the public (both residents and consumers identity) are often faced with an identical source of exploitation ─ big corporations that monopolize our necessary commodities.  During the Dock Workers’ Strike, since the target of the struggle was Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing, it was able to draw public resonance from those who also fall victim to the exploitation from the same consortium.  Such public involvement has transcended the strike from a mere labour dispute into a social movement.

 

2. The Application of International Framework Agreement

Another model is the cooperation with international unions, the application of an international framework agreement or corporate codes as an organizational tool, which opens up a new horizon for the fight for collective bargaining in local context. One example is the ISS cleaners organizational plan.  ISS is a worldwide company, specializing in outsourcing cleaning services.  ISS is the largest cleaning contractor in Hong Kong, which employ more than 10,000 workers.  In 2008, ISS and UNI Global Union signed a global framework agreement, whereas ISS pledged to respect and implement workers’ rights to form trade union regardless of her location of investment.  Thus, at the end of 2011, UNI collaborated with SEIU (USA Services Union) to support the Cleaning Service Industry Workers Union (HKCTU Affiliate) in Hong Kong to carry out the ISS cleaners organization plan.  Through the application of the global framework signed by ISS, union in Hong Kong is able to demand the management to grant union access to workplace to organize out-sourced cleaners in order to achieve adequate representation of a collective agreement with the employer.

 

In this organizational process, the cleaners union is able to take the initiative in a more systematic method of organization thank to the methodological training and personnel provided by the international trade union organizations.  This method is significantly different from the previous "crisis intervention" model.  The union sent three to four organizers to a hospital incessantly for a matter of months to conduct face to face interviews with outsourced hospital cleaners.  During the process, the union was able to collect contact information from more than 100 workers, and hence, exposed a number of issues and activists.  So far, one-fourth of the hospital cleaners joined the union, and among them, a core group of six to seven workers was established, which prepares to demand for a raise in pay subsidy.

 

Besides ISS, collaboration between local trade unions and international trade union organizations also include the Disneyland and H&M's workers' organization plans.

 

In concluding the experience of this model, as the employers are bounded by their commitment to the Framework Agreement, they tend to adopt a more neutral attitude toward trade unions in order to maintain their corporate image.  Moreover, trade unions are able to carry out organizational duties more conveniently by gaining direct access to workplace.  However, even with the Global Framework Agreement in place, the foundation of the bottom-up organizing approach is still irreplaceable.  Relentless efforts and endeavors are still necessary in order to raise workers’ recognition and motivation to join the union.

 

3. Establishing Stronghold in Enterprise Through Industrial-Based Unions

In the past, many of the Hong Kong's independent trade unions are organized by industries.  They often respond to emerging issues and involved in labor disputes that occurs in the specific industry.  The characteristic of such approach is its enormous organizational coverage, which can make the union more flexible to accommodate the employment mobility. However, due to the lack of organizing capability and strength in the workplace, the role of some industrial unions is limited to put pressure on the government only. In this case, industrial unions are very vulnerable and powerless when facing unequal labour relations within enterprises. Therefore, it is the HKCTU's policy in recent years to promote industrial trade unions to develop strongholds in enterprises (or crafts), hoping that this can be more effective in promoting the rights of collective bargaining.

 

Sustained economic growth in recent years brings considerable profit to big corporations.  However, employers are often denied a fair share of pay rise while bearing the heavy burden of high inflation.  By assisting and organizing workers to fight for pay rise, some trade unions succeeded in making a breakthrough by involving in labor negotiations.  The Construction Site Workers General Union have helped launched a 36 day bar benders’ strike, which was successful in fighting for a pay rise and eight hours of work; the Bar Bender Solidarity Union was eventually established as a result, and gained bargaining status with The Bar Bending Industry Association in the annual review of remuneration adjust.  Meanwhile, the Catering And Hotels Industries Employees General Union involved in a number of food and beverage companies workers' strikes, which assisted Nestle, Vitasoy, and Watsons established a corporate employee unions to support them to obtain the status of collective bargaining.

 

In general, enterprise unions tend to focus on labour relations and issues within their own company, and lack the labor and political vision in a wider context.  By utilizing industrial-based unions to organize enterprise unions can be a means to compensate for this deficiency.  However, if enterprise unions are unable to continuely promote social interest and fight for social justice and maintain cooperation with other trade unions, trade union solidarity will soon be weakened.

 

Summary

Labor relations in Hong Kong have long been dominated by the governance of "voluntary consultation”.  In the absence of the constraint of legislative framework, independent trade unions had to resolve to the "trench warfare” approach to fight for the rights to collective bargaining.  In one hand, the Hong Kong labor movement is conscious of the limitations and shortcomings of its over-reliance on the industrial-based organizational model; the leadership believe there is an urgent need to strengthen the capability of workplace organization in order to rectify the past by disregarding "crisis intervention” as the principal organizational model; On the other hand, independent trade unions have also taken advantages of the collaborations with social movements and international trade unionism, in order to seek a breakthrough under inadequate legal protection.

 

As independent trade unions are being marginalized both in labor relations and political establishment, strategically forming a connection with social movements and international labor movement may open up a new course to fight for the rights to collective bargaining.  As a matter of fact, rather than remaining on the enterprise level, progressive trade union organizations in Western Countries also advocate that collective bargaining should be expanded to face social and international aspects.  From this perspective, unions from around the world are echoing in a similar direction in constantly renewing their organizational approach under the challenges of neo-liberalism.

 

Disparity reflected on holidays Fighting for 17 labour holidays

30

Mar 2013

Disparity reflected on holidays - Fighting for 17 labour holidays

30 March 2013


While some employees are enjoying their successive four-day Easter Holidays, nearly two million of workers in Hong Kong are excluded from it. The HKCTU demands the Chief Executive, CY Leung to immediately standardize public holidays and statutory holidays to 17 days, to give all workers in Hong Kong the same entitlement of holidays and eliminate such a disparity on holidays. 

Leung has not raised any concrete recommendations regarding labour rights since he took office and is now seen as insincere to the working class. The HKCTU is now demanding Leung to honour his promise in caring for the grassroots, which he made when he ran for the election. 

 

Low costs for a rise of five holidays

Since many years, the HKCTU has been advocating the standardization of public holidays and statutory holidays to 17 days. Currently, most grassroots workers are entitled to 12 statutory holidays while the white-collar, middle or upper level employees are enjoying 17 public holidays, an obvious disparity reflected on holidays and a discrimination against grassroots workers. It is estimated that 1.8 million of workers, i.e. 60%, of the three million working population, are excluded from the entitlement of 17 public holidays. They are mainly from the sectors of transport, catering, retailing, personal services, cleaning and security, construction and etc.. 

The business sector often claims that increasing holidays would lead to a rise in labour costs, which it could not afford. Yet, the actual increase of labour costs for a hike of five holidays is 1.7%. As salaries amount for 34.9% of the operational costs for all industries in Hong Kong, standardizing public and statutory holidays would only increase the total costs of 0.6%, to the employers' budget. For example, in a small-medium size enterprise with 10 employees and their medium monthly income is set at HKD12,000, increasing their holidays from 12 to 17 days, would only increase the expenses on salaries by HKD1,666 per month. In short, enterprises would only need to pay several thousand dollars more per month, to end the this form of holiday inequality. As the HKCTU observes, many enterprises have offered their employees 17 public holidays and it has minimal impacts on their overall performance. "Unaffordable costs" is simply an exaggeration to threaten the public. 

Another camp suggested to introduce those 5 days in stages, such as increasing one statutory holiday each year. Yet, the HKCTU has calculated and shown that to increase 5 days at one go is having very minor impact on labour costs and therefore, there is no point to wait. 

 

Leung's determination is crucial in standardizing holidays

On 21 May 2008, Lee Cheuk-yan has motioned "to include public holidays into statutory holidays" at the Legislative Council (LegCo). Among the 53 members at the meeting, a majority of 34 voted in favour, 1 against and 17 abstentions. As it was a motion raised by a LegCo member, it was required to be voted separately and eventually turned down by the functional constituencies. Yet, if it would have been a motion from the Government, it is almost clear that it would be passed. Therefore, the HKCTU believes that if Leung would make such a motion, it is very likely to be passed at the LegCo.

 

Lowest number of holidays, shame for an international city

Property price, rent and even the salaries of the Chief Executive in Hong Kong, have all exceeded their counterparts in the Western society, yet, in terms of labour rights, Hong Kong is failing terribly. Most of the Hong Kong workers are entitled to only 12 statutory holidays and together with their 7 days of annual leave, they have a total of 19 holidays per year, making them almost least free workers in the world. 

Therefore, the HKCTU demands that CY Leung should increase the statutory holidays to 17 days, making it the same as public holidays, to show his commitment for the grassroots workers. 

Annual holidays: examples of some advanced countries

(including annual leave and public holidays)

United Kingdom

24

Germany

24

New Zealand

29

Finland

30

South Korea

32

Belgium

34