Date
24 July 2017
Funeral Business Association chairman Lam Wai-lung (inset) will lead industry practitioners in a protest against the government's booking system. Photo: i-Cable
Funeral Business Association chairman Lam Wai-lung (inset) will lead industry practitioners in a protest against the government's booking system. Photo: i-Cable

Funeral industry plans hearse caravan to protest booking system

Is there a fate worse than death?

Yes, not being able to book a cremation.

Bad joke. But the local funeral industry will go on a slow drive next week to protest the online booking system for cremations.

According to a Cable TV news report, funeral service providers are not happy with the online registration system, which is often out of order. Worse, the 100 available spaces are taken up within 50 seconds.

That must be more frustrating than not having been able to buy a ticket for the soccer World Cup qualifying match between Hong Kong and China at the Mong Kok Stadium on Tuesday.

Apparently, there were online queuing groups who wrote a special computer program that allowed them to take up the available spots instantly. These people made use of loopholes in the system to buy time to change their payment terms until they received the orders from real customers.

Two years ago, the Food and Hygiene Department started adopting the online system for people to reserve cremation services in the next 15 days after receiving complaints that the reservations were always taken by industry professionals.

To allow ordinary people to participate, the government adopted an online system to handle bookings starting from 9:15 a.m. everyday.

But it’s this new system that frequent users are complaining about for not being able to get a booking.

By the way, a similar online arrangement was introduced by the Home Affairs Bureau to allot a soccer venue or tennis court, which, unsurprisingly, is usually taken by early risers.

But there seems to be no perfect system.

Just like in the new iPhone allotment, some online experts managed to exploit the system by writing a program that gave them a preference in the line-up. As a result, people who dutifully queued up for a slot were not able to get a booking.

Come Nov. 25, a group of about 50 industry practitioners will drive their funeral hearses in a protest caravan from Hung Hom to the government headquarters in Tamar to complain about the two-year system.

For a change, the funeral guys are now on the disadvantaged side. Ask anyone who had booked for their services and you would hear a litany of complaints, especially about their terms and conditions which are sometimes stricter than doctor’s orders.

Well, not too many people will haggle when it comes to the cost of death, and usually they just take whatever these guys say without much questioning because they are the professionals.

Because of their special bargaining and pricing powers, these guys have become the darlings of investors.

Stock market punters love funeral plays such as Fu Shou Yuan (01448.HK) because they have higher margins than some property developers.

Anyway, this is Hong Kong. Anyone has the freedom to protest, even these funeral service providers who laugh while their clients weep.

– Contact at english@hkej.com

BK/JP/CG

EJ Insight writer

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