Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has come under fire from both the opposition and the pro-establishment camp for not declaring an extra day off for workers on Monday in the wake of the widespread destruction brought by super typhoon Mangkhut, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
A lot of buildings were damaged, many areas were flooded, roads were littered with fallen trees and other debris, and transportation systems were impaired, but workers, both public and private, were made to work while most of the city remained crippled.
The government only suspended classes in all levels on Monday and Tuesday, but apparently ignored the difficulties – not to mention the danger – that ordinary people had to face in order to get to their places of work amid impassable roads and lack of public transport.
On Sunday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor urged local companies to show understanding and adopt a flexible approach to staff who have difficulties of getting back to work after Mangkhut wreaked havoc on the transport network.
Asked by media on Monday why she did not announce an extra day off for workers, Lam said it was more suitable with the current situation if the issue could be handled by mutual understanding and consideration between employers and employees.
Lam said she had asked the Civil Service Bureau to notify internally all civil servants that, provided they were not to participate in providing emergency and other urgent services, they would only have to call their superiors and would not be considered absent if they could not come to work due to traffic disruptions on Monday.
However, it was learned that the bureau did not send out such an announcement until 3:07 p.m. on Monday.
As of 1 p.m on Tuesday, all MTR lines were back to normal service.
Speaking to media before a regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said she understands how frustrated commuters must have been when they knew their buses were not operating, or when they were stuck waiting for MTR trains for a long time, RTHK reported.
But she stressed there is no mechanism or legal basis in place for the government to declare a day off for all workers.
All in all, Monday turned into an ordeal for commuters trying to report for work as MTR and bus services were disrupted for most of the day.
Lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) accused the administration of being out of touch with reality.
He said the chaos seen on Monday should prompt the government to study whether to give the chief executive the power to suspend classes in schools and work in public and private enterprises in the wake of a large-scale natural disaster.
In a statement, the Civic Party demanded an apology from Lam and said that standard procedures must be set for class and work suspension during an emergency situation.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who represents the legal sector, said Lam should have been able to declare a day off by invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance.
On the hand, some lawmakers expressed support for Lam’s decision.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who sits on the Legislative Council’s transport panel, said the government was not supposed to announce a city-wide work suspension recklessly since not every district was badly hit by the typhoon.
Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel, pointed out that even a chief executive has no authority to order all people in Hong Kong to take a day off, let alone to stand the resulting economic losses.
Lawmaker Ronick Chan Chun-ying, who represents the financial sector, said Hong Kong is an international financial center and a comprehensive work suspension would definitely affect the operations of banks as well as local and cross-border transactions of its stock market.
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