HKCTU E-Newsletter

The Birth of International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)

17

Dec 2013

 

Domestic workers of the world unite on October 28th! We have done it, the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) was founded to organize domestic workers of the world. When the constitution was passed, 200 people in the community hall of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, chanted and danced in joy, waving their ballots and embracing each other in solidarity. The venue echoed with the slogan "Sí, se puede!" (We did it!) and "Solidarity Forever!".

 

International Solidarity is Not Merely a Slogan, The Organization of Domestic Workers Enhance Strength

The founding affiliates of the IDWF consisted of 47 unions from a total of 42 countries, our affiliate -- Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers' Unions (FADWU) is also one of the members while the vice president of FADWU, Sister Phobsuk Gasing, was elected as one of six executive committee members, representing domestic workers organizations from Asia. And Sister Elizabeth Tang was elected as the Chief Executive. Sister Myrtle Witbooi from South Africa and Sister Ernestina Ochoa from Peru were elected as President and Vice-President respectively.

The organizing of domestic workers from around the world started in 2006.  The first international conference of domestic workers was held in the Netherlands. Afterwards, the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) was established in 2009, and mobilized domestic workers to participate and fight for the ratification the International Domestic Workers Labour Convention. Leading to the eventual ratification of Convention C189 on June 16th, 2011. The IDWN chose to hold her inaugural conference in Uruguay because it was the first country to sign C189 while the country passed comprehensive legislation to protect domestic workers, including the right to collective bargaining. The closing remark of the inaugural conference was presented by Uruguayan President, the Hon. Jose Mujica, and after the presentation, President Mujica came forward to embrace our working sisters.

 

Hong Kong Representative Elected as Executive Committee Member, Learn from the Experience of the Americans
Sister Phobsuk was especially emotional when she was elected as the executive committee member. She led the participants from the audience to chant "Su Su Su!", which means “to fight” in Thai. She admitted that a lot of responsibilities now rested upon her shoulder after the election and modestly claimed that: “Regardless of borders and languages, as long as you are willing to express sincere intentions and work tirelessly, we can still make concerted efforts.” Sister Phobsuk acknowledged the legislation to protect domestic workers in Latin America is very comprehensive and hope to push for governments to recognize domestic workers labor rights in Asia. And most importantly, is to empowering domestic workers in acknowledging their rights and have the ability to stand up for their rights against governments, employers. The IDWF will serve as a platform to gather strength in international solidarity, and fight for every domestic workers from all over globe!

 

Sharing Prosperity and Combating Inflation 7% pay rise next year, proposed by the HKCTU

17

Dec 2013

 

In early November 2013, the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong recommended employers to offer a pay rise of 4% in 2014. The media and some commentators focused in praising the recommendation, as for the first time, is close to the estimated inflation. Indeed, the wages increase recommendations the Employers' Federation made in the previous years, have clearly reflected that the Hong Kong employers would deliberately exclude the working class to share prosperity. Worse than that, the often below-inflation pay rises caused many to suffer from a fall of living standard.
 

Unenthusiastic estimation to maximize corporates' gain

Each year, the Employers' Federation would quote numerous excuses, recommending corporates to hand out paychecks with caution. As a result, the overall economic growth of the past decade has been over 40% while the actual wages increase of the workers is 1%. In other words, the corporates have taken all the pies and left the workers the crumbs, if there was any left!

 

Relax, 7% pay rise won't stir trouble up

The HKCTU has always been advocated that the pay rise should not only be covering inflation, but also to repay workers for their contribution to economic growth. For many institutes and corporates with astronomical profits, a 7% pay rise is just a peanut and they can handle it with ease.

 

Constructive negotiation is the key

7% is simply a reference point, while each enterprise should determine their pay rise by looking into its accounts. For example, profitable enterprises are welcome to give higher than 7% pay rise. The key is, the employees and employers should discuss about it, to reach an agreement regarding pay rise, and other changes on their welfare.  

 

What justify a pay rise of 7%?

The goal of pay rise = economic growth + inflation

Economic growth in 2013: 3%

Estimated inflation of 2014: 3.8%

Thus, the HKCTU is calling for an average pay rise of 7% for workers in Hong Kong.

 

Booming future for construction workers: too rosy to be true

A few weeks ago, the media was covering stories of young bar-benders, between the age 20 and 30 and have had two years work experience, could have a wage hike from HKD15,000 to HKD60,000 per month. The Bar Bending Solidarity Union then issued a statement to clarify, saying that was not the reality of their trade.  According to the sectoral agreement reached between the union and the employers' association, a skilled bar-bender earns HKD1,448.5, which makes HKD36,212.5 if he workers 25 days a month. Yet, the environmental regulations which prohibit construction works on holidays, bad weathers and work arrangements often allow bar-benders to work at most 25 days, sometimes fewer. Construction Site Workers General Union Chairman Chan Pat-kan (picture above) explains that, there are various types of jobs in a construction site and the bar-benders are the only ones to have the right to regularly review and negotiate their income with the employers' association, due to their strike in 2007. Therefore, the bar-benders are the better-off employees at the construction site while the other construction workers constantly face “unjust” pay rise. For example, as a general construction worker, Chan himself used to earn HKD480 per day, including an overtime payment. In July 2013, his then employer announced a HKD100 pay rise but canceled the HKD50 overtime payment. It appears that his daily wages has gone up by HKD50 but the employers can cancel or deduct subsidy on any given day. Various construction workers unions, affiliated with the HKCTU, would give more details of their pay rise,  to respond to the exaggerated and twisted media coverage of their industry, as well to promote a reasonable sectoral wages and improve their working conditions.  

 

Case studies of the so-called pay rise

Media earlier has reported that an employer paid HKD20,000 and could not even find a dish-cleaner. Yet, the truth was, an employer was trying to outsource the dish-cleaning job for HKD20,000, for a whole restaurant. After deducting labour insurance and other costs, any contractor or any individual cannot pay more than HKD10,000 to a dish-cleaner (actually if it is a whole restaurant, it might need many dish-cleaners, so the pay is far lower than HKD10,000). The media also claimed that given the booming future of construction jobs, a new apprentice's daily income has gone up to HKD2,000.  However, statistics tell us that the unemployment rate of the construction sector is up at 5% to 6% and underemployment rate is among the highest in Hong Kong. The wages of the majority of construction workers are continuously being pressed down by developers and contractors. Let us introduce you some true stories of the so-called pay rise.
 

Social welfare organizations: unscrupulous use of fund

The general public might consider employees at the social welfare sector as the gifted employees, being paid well, on time and having a pay scale close to the civil servants. However, the picture has changed completely since 2000, when the Government started to give out funds in lump-sum grants, described by Social Welfare Organizations Employees Union's committee member Kwok Chung-yin (right). Once a fund is granted, the Government would not monitor how a social welfare organization uses it and surplus is often not shared with the employees. For example, the wages of the position “Program Worker” was set by the Government at HKD8,000 five years ago and no adjustment has been made since then, despite the ever-growing inflation. It means, no matter how hard a program worker works, s/he is earning less year after year.  The social workers also face the problem of unequal pay for equal work. They told Kwok that when they became social workers two years ago, the monthly salaries were HKD15,000 to HKD16,000. Now their pay has gone up to HKD17,000, which is the same as newly recruited social workers. In order to make the ends meet, social workers often change their jobs every few years, which means the organization would lose the expertise accumulated and need to invest time to rebuild a trusting relation with a new social worker, an unhealthy situation for all in the sector. Kwok urged the Government to review the lump-sum grant mechanism, to combat the problems of no pay rise and unequal pay for equal work. The social welfare organizations would need more supervision and actual wages should be an item of direct reimbursement, in order to ensure that funding specifically made for pay rise would be paid to workers at the sector.

 

MTR: Making over 10 billions of profits and infamous for pressing wages down

In 2012, the MTR has recorded over 13 billions profits and in mid-2013, it proposed wages increase at 2.2% to 6.5%, depending on an employee's performance. Chairman Chan Sin-wo of Mass Transit Railway Corporation Staff Union (middle) said the appraisal had five scores and close to a half of employees got three points, a pay rise of 4.5%. Only 10% of employees got five points for a 6.5% rise. “The pay rise was just catching up inflation, our years of service is not rewarded and we can't call it a pay rise.” Chan said. The union is lobbying MTR to reintroduce the pre-1998 measure, i.e. 3% pay rise for each year of service, instead of the current score system. For 2014, the union is seeking a not-lower-than-8% rise and expects MTR not only taking the wages evaluation reports of some 20 companies in the market, but to include inflation as a factor. The starting salaries of MTR's front-line workers are relatively low and therefore, to halt labour turnover, the enterprise has given some employees an extra 5% pay rise. “The new drivers earn a bit over HKD10,000 and 5% means 500 to 600 bucks more. It simply doesn't help.” Chan believes that the MTR should raise the starting salaries for its front-line employees to stop them from leaving.
 

Four steps to fight for pay rise

To get money out of the employers' pocket, it requires solid and well-planned strategies. Based on our affiliates' experience over the years, we have come up with a four-step strategy, namely 1. consultation, 2. raising demands, 3. confrontation and 4. negotiation. We are looking forward to seeing our unions practicing this four-step strategy in the coming wave of wage negotiation, and hope for fruitful negotiations for our members.

 

1. Consultation

Discuss your expectation on pay rise with union members and colleagues. Collect necessary materials such as the company's turnover, inflation and other relevant statistics. Form a united and determined team.

 

2. Raising demands

If the employer ignores your demand of pay rise, the trade union should organize for resistance. It should lobby members, seek media attention to get the juicy story of “profit-making business refusing to reward employees” out, and give a final warning.

 

3. Confrontation

Lobby member to pressurize the employer to negotiate with the trade union. The form and scale of confrontation rely highly on the solidarity level of members. Common tactics are general meting, joint-petition, protests, certain industrial actions or even strike.

 

4. Negotiation

Get your head on straight at negotiation. Give convincing statistics and reasoning at the negotiation table. If your employer turns your demand down or makes excuses, organize and take action again! It can be a process of fighting, negotiating and fighting, which goes on till you get the employer to take your proposal or reach a compromise that is generally accepted by the employees.

 

Employers create labour shortage

17

Dec 2013

 

The government relieved the population policy consultation paper in late October. The main issues raised in the consultation paper are the aging population and the shortage of workforce. The HKCTU is afraid that the government will import more foreign workers.

The paper echoes the voice of business sector. Shirley Yuen, president of Chamber of Commerce recently asked the Government to import low skilled workers while many industries have difficulties in recruitment.

 

Employers create labour shortage

The CTU believes that labour shortage is mainly due to low-wage and poor working conditions. Employers are unwilling to improve salary, and the worker condition especially for low skilled workers, are unbearable. On the other hand, no effective measures to encourage potential workforce, such as female homemakers, elderly and disable, to work. Also, there are no regulations on family-friendly workplace practices which also discourage people from work.

Industries such as retail, catering and care homes suffer from difficult recruitment. The CTU argues that it is due to low wage and poor working conditions. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the real incomes of grass-roots works were almost stand still for the past ten years. At the same time, the per capita GDP has increased significantly over 60%. It is why those low skilled jobs cannot attract people.

 

 

2003 Daily Wage    

2013 Daily Wage    

Increase    

Salesman

339

421

24.2%

Hotel room attendant

387

479

23.9%

Hotel Lobby Receptionist

412

526

27.7%

Restaurant waiters

317

395

24.4%

Non-Chinese restaurants waiters      

309

427

38.2%

CPI (A)

90.7

115.5

27.3%

GDP per capita (year-round)

186,704

299,596

60.5%

 

In contrast, other industries with better salary growth, their vacancy ratios are lower (see table below). For accommodation and food services and retail trade, their real wages are similar to the level of 1992. Meanwhile, these two industries are two of the longest working hours sectors. 68.7% and 45.7% of their full time employees work 54 hours or more per week respectively. It proofs that labour shortage problem in particular sectors is caused by low wage and long working hour.

 

2013 Real Wage Index (September 1992 = 100)

 

 

Wage     

Vacancy Ratio    

Accommodation and food services

101.9

5.6%

Retail trade

98.4

3.6%

Professional and business services

121.8

2.5%

Financial and insurance activities

127.8

2.4%

Import and export trade and wholesale      

127.2

1.9%

 

Discourage potential workforce to work

Hong Kong’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) is only 58.8% in 2012, which is lower than other countries. For example, the LFPR of Singapore is 66.6%. Female, elderly and disable have low participation rate due to many barriers.

CTU has criticizes there has been no real progress on creating a supportive environment for homemakers to work. At present, a serious shortage of child care services provided by the government, so many women are forced to stay home to care for their families. Hong Kong female LFPR is only 49.6% (1.55 millions). Lower than The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) average 64.6%. If Hong Kong's female labor force participation rate increased to an average level of OECD countries, 468,000 potential workforces can be unleashed.

Few of Hong Kong employers practice family-friendly workplace measures. It is because the government has no intention to regulate those practices. For instance, there is no parental leave in Hong Kong. Working parents are almost impossible to apply leave to take care of their children. Also, this is no common to find a breast-feeding room in offices.

The CTU claims that the government should set up legislations on family-friendly labour policies, including parental leave, paternity leave and family-friendly workplace. It is also important to provide accessible and sufficient childcare services to homemakers. At the same time, employers should change their mind set to improve wage and working conditions of low skilled workers.

 

Swire-Coca Cola broke their promises; Workers staged strike for CBA

17

Dec 2013

 

Author: Chan Chiu-wai

 

"Strike for a written agreement? What sort of agreement is it?"
When Swire Beverages (Hong Kong) Employees General Union staged a strike on 3 October 2013, you might probably be puzzled. The conflict was not arisen all of a sudden. The employees only went on strike after suffering from longstanding and unbearable bitterness. The following is a story of their struggle.
 

The strike was attributed to the untrustworthy management

In early December 2012, Swire Beverages had an attempt to contract out part of the delivery work. The union strongly resisted to the proposal after knowing it. The management was forced to shelve the outsourcing plan indefinitely. In addition, the Swire Beverages management pledged that they would consult the union if there was any policy which would affect the employees. What they have said was still ringing in ears, the company schemed to contract out the delivery work in some of the district offices in less than a year. The company betrayed the workers and destroyed the trust in the employer-employee relations. 
 

Unpaid overtime, no protection for industrial accidents

The work shift of the delivery team should begin at 8:00am. However, Swire Beverages demanded workers to arrive in the warehouse to sort the products. The work concerned was not only outside workers’ job description, it was also unpaid. The unscrupulous employer just took workers’ unpaid overtime for granted. 
 

On the other hand, traffic accident was not uncommon for the truck drivers. The corporate was indifferent to the employee who faced legal charges. All the truck drivers could not believe that the employer would just abandon them while they needed company’s support.
 

Demanding a written agreement lest deceptive tactics by the employer

Union president Chan Hing-lung (Lung) expressed that a written agreement between the company and the union is essential to raise the union recognition among the employees. The negotiation on terms of employment would be in limbo if the management refused to endorse the role of the union. 
 

Owing to his vocal critics towards the company, Lung has been allocated to different positions for a few times in recent years. Nevertheless, Lung could unexpectedly make contact with more colleagues and hear their grievances. He was also able to educate his colleagues the importance of organizing. Lung stated that the company has simply ignored the problems which were channeled by the union. As there was no sign that the management would be committed to genuine improvement in working conditions, workers had no choice but went on strike for a written agreement.     
 

The arrogant management kept reiterating their position 
On 3 October 2013, the management held a meeting with the workers. The union vice-president Yu Chen-sum (Sum) pointed out that the union committee was vowed to a strike if the negotiation broke down. The management was unexpectedly arrogant and aggressive in the very beginning that led to the break down of the negotiation. As a result, the union left the meeting and launched the strike. 
 

Sum said that over 400 members out of 600 particpated in the strike on 3 October. Most of them were from the delivery department. The unity of the workers successfully paralyzed the transportation work. Sum revealed that the union was prepared to step up pressure over the company by expanding the scale of the strike.

Sum added that the union committee members intended to negotiate with the company at 11am on the first day of strike. While the union aimed to break the stalemate with good faiths, the management might have learned from the bureaucratic government officials and kept repeating their position as if a recorder. The negotiation broke down again. The strike went on. 
 

Victory of workers: status of union was recognized

The negotiation was deadlocked. Strikers remained outside the factory overnight. The stern action by the workers successfully pushed Swire Beverages go back to the negotiating table in the midnight. On the top of consensus on terms of employment, the management promised to sign a framework agreement with the union which recognize the status of the union. Additionally, the company also agreed to hold quarterly meetings with the union.    
 

The Hong Kong government is pleased to see that less strike happening in Hong Kong to affect the productivity. The authorities concerned cited that figure to claim that collective bargaining is unneccessary. Yet, the rapacious employers who ignore the unions keep testing the workers’ bottom line. As a result, strikes erupted successively in this year. 
 

Nowadays, companies which lift profits by squeezing costs are widely denounced by the general public. Enterprises should rather implement corporate social responsibility by sharing fruits of economic development with workers. Unfortunately, most of the corporate does not seem to accept principle of business ethics. Meanwhile, the government is submitted to the business sector. The working class has no other option but be united and resistant to exploitation. Swire Beverages (Hong Kong) Employees General Union has demonstrated that workers can claim their rights through struggle.

 

E-newsletter Issue No.2 - Bitterness in the skies

15

Oct 2013

 

 

Bitterness in the skies: Interview with unionists (a pilot and two flight attendants)

A local TV drama “Triumph in the Skies II" has set off a stir throughout the city. Many people admire the wonderful lives of pilots and flight attendants because of the series. Is their career in real life similar to that portrayed in the series? We have interviewed a pilot and two flight attendants to understand the sweetness and bitterness of their jobs, and how their unions strive for labour rights. [read more]

 
 
 
 
 

Say NO to censorship and fake universal suffrage

Support to civil nomination

Until now, the Hong Kong SAR Government has been delaying to put out a universal suffrage proposal for public consultation, while it has become a heated debate in the civil society. The civil society is aiming to reach a consensus, to further advocate the Government to adopt a genuine universal suffrage method. In this issue of the HKCTU Newsletter, we are introducing some of the genuine universal suffrage methods. [read more]

 

Domestic Worker in cage

When the Kartika’s case first broke out last month, the Hong Kong public was shocked at the maltreatment of migrant domestic workers.  Meanwhile, it has provided an opportunity for the public to gain an insight to the issues confronted by many migrant domestic workers. When the verdict came out, the employers were justly sentenced for three to five years of imprisonment. [read more]

 

 

Domestic worker in cage

15

Oct 2013


Author: Tang Kin Wa, Leo

 

When the Kartika’s case first broke out last month, the Hong Kong public was shocked at the maltreatment of migrant domestic workers.  Meanwhile, it has provided an opportunity for the public to gain an insight to the issues confronted by many migrant domestic workers.  When the verdict came out, the employers were justly sentenced for three to five years of imprisonment.

 

To their astonishment, it is impossible for many Hong Kong people to comprehend that a worker can be treated in such a horrid fashion for more than two years.  Many may also cast doubts over why Kartika did not escape from such an ordeal and continued to work for her employers.  Although Kartika’s case is an extreme case, the foreign domestic workers policy in Hong Kong is actually the perpetrator of such abuses.

 

Isabel Chang, a project staff of a local service centre handling labor cases of migrant workers, Mission for Migrant Workers, mentioned that the shelter of her organization is receiving over 300 residents each year, mainly domestic workers who suffer from a wide range of abuses.  Among those cases, a domestic worker was asked by her employer to iron clothes at two in the morning, however she fell asleep while carrying out her duty and accidentally destroyed a shirt.  As punishment, her employer put a burning iron on her hand.  This is only one of the examples of long working hour made possible by the mandatory live-in policy.

 

Apart from that, migrant domestic workers are forced to leave Hong Kong within 14 days upon termination of contract, even if it is a premature termination.  Under such regulation, the Immigration Department is in fact sanctioning employers to determine their employees’ length of stay.  With all these limitations, it only adds up the difficulties for migrant domestic workers to pursue their cases.

 

If a domestic worker is being abused and decides to file a lawsuit against her employer, she can only apply for a tourist visa in order to extend her stay, which means she is unable to work within that period.  As the proceedings may well last up to a matter of months or even years, many migrant domestic workers choose to give up on taking legal actions since it is impossible for them to make a living during the time period.  Obviously, victims such as Kartika are hard done by such policy.  As migrant domestic workers are forced to live with their employers, they have no place to go when they face problems in their workplace.

 

The day after the court ruling, Sring, the leader of Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, and me went onto a radio program to discuss the Kartikacase, as well as the policy on Migrant Domestic Workers.  During which, I proposed the revocation of the mandatory live-in policy.  However, an audience phoned in to express opposite views and said, “If migrant domestic workers are allowed to live-out, they will infect AIDS or get pregnant!”

 

This is exactly the kind of prejudice where discriminatory policy against migrant domestic workers is based upon.   To criticize employees’ personal conducts is neither appropriate nor respectful under any circumstances.  Such stigmas are so ridiculous that it would be unconceivable if they are applied to migrant workers of other professions, let alone local workers.  It is due to sheer prejudice that misleads the general public to conceive migrant domestic workers as their employer’s custodies.

 

Towards the end of the programme with only ten seconds left, I tried to explain the difference between local and migrant domestic workers; where they are meeting the needs of very different markets and people.  However, what I would like to say is: The conflict between employers and workers cannot be resolved by applying more limitations to migrant domestic workers.  In fact, the policy that reinforces misunderstandings and discriminations will only widen the gap between local and migrant domestic workers.

 

Everything will be better if we treat all workers alike.  Migrant domestic workers are workers, are human beings, like everybody else.

Bitterness in the skies: Interview with unionists (a pilot and two flight attendants)

15

Oct 2013

Authors: Wong Siu Woon, Michelle & Poon Man Hon

 

A local TV drama “Triumph in the Skies II" has set off a stir throughout the city. Many people admire the wonderful lives of pilots and flight attendants because of the series. Is their career in real life similar to that portrayed in the series? We have interviewed a pilot and two flight attendants to understand the sweetness and bitterness of their jobs, and how their unions strive for labour rights.

 

"Cry out against injustice” is the entry requirement for pilots  

 

http://www.hkctu.org.hk/cms/images/userfile/image/Jeremy(6).jpg



Jeremy Tam has 12 years’ experience in civil aviation. In 1999, he joined the cadet pilot programme. He said during the 13-month programme they have had almost 70 examinations. But high IQ is not a major criterion for a pilot. “The most important requirement is to.... 
read more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main duty of flight attendant is to ensure passenger safety

Dora, Inflight service manager, has been a flight attendant (FA) for 27 years. She applied for the job not because she wanted to travel around the world. She only thought this profession was nobler at that time. Dora shared that in reality, most FAs just stay in hotels and ... [read more]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol has worked in British Airways for 21 years. She emphasized FAs’ work is not “Dressing up“but taking care of the safety of passengers. FAs need to be trained each year, including emergency evacuation procedures and a variety of contingency handling procedures. They must ... read more

 

 

The main duty of flight attendant is to ensure passenger safety

15

Oct 2013

Authors: Wong Siu Woon, Michelle & Poon Man Hon

 

 

Dora, Inflight service manager, has been a flight attendant (FA) for 27 years. She applied for the job not because she wanted to travel around the world. She only thought this profession was nobler at that time. Dora shared that in reality, most FAs just stay in hotels and eat cup noodles to save money, rather than traveling when they are abroad.

 

Dora said formerly, inflight service was equivalent to a fine dining restaurant. However, as the airline continues to cut costs, fewer and fewer services are provided. Hence, front-line staff are receiving more and more complaints. FAs always have close contact with customers, does the company has any occupational safety guidelines? "No! Management even prohibits us from wearing masks!" She exclaimed. For the company, it is more important to "supply smile” to customers than to safeguard the health of employees. Medical researches have already proved that FAs have higher chances of miscarriage. Due to heavy workload, they are more likely to suffer back and leg pain. There is an appearance guideline that FAs must wear high heels even after work.

 

 

Carol has worked in British Airways for 21 years. She emphasized FAs’ work is not “Dressing up“ but taking care of the safety of passengers. FAs need to be trained each year,

 

 including emergency evacuation procedures and a variety of contingency handling procedures. They must pass practical and written tests for contract renewal.

She remembered a foreign male passenger was sweaty when he got aboard. Carol immediately approached him to see if he needed any help. He felt abdominal pain. Carol suggested he leave the plane and receive treatment, because after takeoff, he may not get any emergency treatment. Later the passenger informed the company that he was suffering from acute hernia. If he insisted on getting aboard he may die. So FAs should not only look “pretty”, but should also have professional experiences and good communication skills.

 

 

Union Blasting

Dora is chairperson of the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union (FAU). While she is working, she often receives member queries. Although the union and the company negotiate annually, the status has no legal protection. Many company policies have bypassed the union when they were implemented, such as the ones adopted since 1996-97 whereby the company recruits hourly rated employees and foreign employees. In 2009, the company tried to cancel the 70-hour minimum guaranteed working hours which may affect FAs’ income without consulting the union. The union mobilized members to protest against the new arrangement. The company ultimately abolished it.

 

Last year, Cathay Pacific unilaterally announced a 2-percent pay rise, forced employees to work overnight in order to reduce the outstation allowance and planned to recruit more foreign workers to replace local FAs. The union launched an industrial action against these. After 20 hours of negotiations, the company has finally made a concession to restrict the number of foreign FAs to not exceeding 15% of all FAs. The management also agreed to cancel overnight work arrangement. After this incident, more FAs understand how worker solidarity can safeguard their rights.

 

Dora believes that "regardless of education level and type of work, all workers need collective bargaining legislation to get rid of bullying from the boss!"

 

Battle against age discrimination in British Airways

Carol has the same feeling as she is the chairperson of the British Airways cabin crew union of Hong Kong. Hong Kong has no anti-age discrimination legislation, so the mandatory retirement age for all major airlines’ FAs is 45-55 years old. In 2006, she has complained about such a discriminatory arrangement. However, she did not get any positive response from the Equal Opportunities Commission. EOC staff even sarcastically told her to “go to the UK to sue the airways”. Carol was so outraged that she decided to go to England for help. With the assistance of the British Airways union in the UK and after six and a half years, the affected Hong Kong based FAs have successfully got the compensation from British Airways under the conciliation deal. Carol is so upset - as Hong Kong people, they need to find justice in a foreign country. But after this incident, she and her union have won respect and recognition. "The strength of a union comes from its members." Carol explained with pride.

 

"Cool" because they are in solidarity

In the TV series, pilots and flight attendants are “cool” because they are handsome and gorgeous. In reality, they are no different from other wage earners. They are also facing a lot of exploitation and bitterness. Fortunately, both pilots and flight attendants’ unions have high union density rate which is quite rare in Hong Kong. 

 

 

 

 

“Cry out against injustice” is the entry requirement for pilots

15

Oct 2013

Authors: Wong Siu Woon, Michelle & Poon Man Hon

 

Jeremy Tam has 12 years’ experience in civil aviation. In 1999, he joined the cadet pilot programme. He said during the 13-month programme they have had almost 70 examinations. But high IQ is not a major criterion for a pilot. “The most important requirement is to dare express your views. Extroverted personality could help the work very much,” said Jeremy. People think that pilots have an easy job. In reality, a pilot needs to read a lot of reports and inspect the aircraft before takeoff. During flight, he or she has to pay full attention to information and weather changes. Landing is the biggest challenge to every pilot, because aircraft models, weight, wind direction, weather and even the airport altitude will affect the landing.

 

Jeremy said once a pregnant passenger was ready to give birth, so he must land the aircraft in Bangladesh immediately. "Although we have already noticed the ground, no one opened the gate when we arrived!" He lamented. Fortunately, the new mom was finally sent to the hospital. Has Jeremy faced any danger in his career? He categorically said “No”. "Because we have adequate training, I have never encountered a moment of danger." A good pilot should take preventive measures to avoid any danger.

 

In drama, handsome male pilots often date gorgeous female flight attendants. Does that often happen in the real world? Jeremy laughed. "If someone applies to be a pilot for dating flight attendants, just forget about it!” Since the 911 incident, security measures have been stepped up. Pilots have zero contact with flight attendants.

 

So is there any bitterness of being a pilot? Jeremy said a pilot faces a lot of pressure, every six months there is a simulation flight test, as well as an annual assessment of the actual flight. At the same time, national aviation regulations change frequently and pilots need to comply with those regulations. Fortunately, they enjoy standard working hours. According to the provisions of the Civil Aviation Department, the flight time must not exceed 100 hours per every 28 days and there is daily flight time limit too.

 

Jeremy is a member of Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (AOA, Cathay Pacific Airways pilots' union) and a former exco member. The union was established in 1963 and has a current membership size of 1,800, over 70% of trade union density. Therefore, the union has strong bargaining power. For example, they can negotiate annual salary adjustment with the employer. In 2010, the union successfully got 10-13% pay rise within two years, which was much better than the average wage increase in Hong Kong. Moreover, exco members have three to five days of union leave. The union has signed many agreements with the employer and all these agreements cannot be unilaterally changed.

 

Jeremy believes member engagement is a key to success. “I mentioned that most of our pilots cry out against injustice. So if there is any unfair treatment, we are united which is our advantage for striving for our own rights." Jeremy stressed. The union is now fighting for a compensation for unpaid leave deduction, a review of accommodation allowance, as well as amendments to the Civil Aviation Department and Cathay Pacific’s flight hours provisions.

 

For the collective bargaining right, Jeremy thinks legislation is the only way to protection. He is outraged by the abolition of the collective bargaining law in 1997 by the Provisional Legislative Council. "Federation of Trade Unions (a pro-government and pro-Beijing trade union federation) said that the law was imperfect. Then why didn’t they amend it instead of abolishing it? " 

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