Workers march for more protection and benefits

May 02, 2019 16:23
THe Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (left) and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions organized separate rallies to commemorate Labour Day. Photo: HKEJ

Thousands of workers took to the streets on Wednesday to demand better working conditions.

Led by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), the workers sought legislation for better protection during inclement weather, increase in the number of statutory holidays, and standard working hours.

The HKFTU said 4,500 people joined their Labor Day rally, while the HKCTU said their mass action drew the participation of 2,200 people, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Police, on the other hand, estimated the crowds joining the two marches at 3,400 and 1,400 respectively.

The HKFTU said it plans to propose a private member's bill that will seek to empower the government to issue a work suspension order as well as extend labor insurance for four hours during serious natural disasters.

Under the proposed bill, offenders are liable upon conviction to a maximum fine of HK$350,000 and up to three years' imprisonment.

The HKFTU expects to submit the draft bill to the Legislative Council for deliberations in October when the new legislative session begins, although the business sector expresses strong objection to the proposal.

The government came under fire last year when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor suspended classes at kindergartens as well as primary and secondary schools but not work on Sept. 17, the day after super typhoon Mangkhut ravaged the city.

The failure to declare a general holiday after the typhoon drew public outcry as workers had to make their way through fallen trees and other debris while public transport was scarce.

The government has proposed to revise the existing Code of Practice in times of typhoons and rainstorms, allowing employees to stay where they are for as long as two hours after Typhoon Signal No. 8 is lifted without having to resume work immediately.

But HKCTU chair Carol Ng Man-yee pointed out that the code does not have the force of law and compliance is only voluntary. She urged the government to legislate it as soon as possible, and demanded meetings with authorities to discuss the matter.

Lawmaker and Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu has proposed a “state of disaster bill”, which is scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of the Legco Panel on Security next Tuesday, to prevent companies from cutting employees’ pay or even sacking them when they fail to report for work during and right after calamities. Violators should be fined up to HK$50,000

HKFTU chairman Wong Kwok said his group is seeking legislation that will entitle all workers to the existing 17 statutory holidays, noting that as many as 970,000 workers only have 12 holidays during the year.

Ng, on the other hand, wants to set standard working hours at 44 per week. She said more than 670,000 employees, or about one in every five in the workforce, are required to work at least 55 hours a week. 

She called for measures to prevent deaths resulting from overwork.

In response, a government spokesman said there are divergent views among different sectors of the community with regard to working hours. As such, the government will focus efforts on formulating guidelines on working hours for 11 designated sectors.

The Labour Department is formulating the guidelines through its industry-based tripartite committees, setting out proposed arrangements for working hours and overtime compensation for employers' reference and adoption, according to the spokesman.

On Wednesday, the government raised with immediate effect the statutory minimum wage (SMW) to HK$37.5 per hour from the current HK$34.5 as proposed by the Minimum Wage Commission and approved by the Executive Council.

However, many workers say the SMW, which is reviewed every two years, is not sufficient for basic living considering the inflation rate.

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