Why HK integration with mainland is a double-edged sword

July 08, 2019 11:50
Mainland workers at the Conghua Racecourse in Guangzhou became upset after learning that their Hong Kong colleagues were getting higher pay. Photo: HKEJ

Officials, both from the central government and the Hong Kong SAR, are keen on pushing for the city's integration with mainland China. But they may become increasingly aware that integration could bring some unwanted outcomes, too.

Let’s look at how integration played a role in two recent incidents.

Some workers at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Conghua training facility in Guangzhou walked out of their jobs last week amid a pay dispute.

The Conghua Racecourse offers a training facility and holds horse racing events from time to time.

It has been hailed as a perfect example of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area initiative, which aims to combine the advantages of Hong Kong and several mainland cities.

However, some mafoos (staff who take care of horses) hired from the mainland went on strike last week, complaining that they were significantly underpaid compared with their counterparts in Hong Kong.

These mainland mafoos are paid 6,000 yuan (US$870.65) each month. They work five days a week, and are offered free lodging.

Initially, many had thought it was a very attractive offer and considered themselves lucky to have landed the available slots.

But as the mainland mafoos befriended their colleagues from Hong Kong, they learned to their dismay that Hong Kong mafoos are paid HK$16,000 per month for a six-day work week, plus a bonus. They became upset and eventually went on strike, demanding a pay increase.

The staff returned to work on Thursday after the Jockey Club agreed to review their employment terms and work conditions.

Separately, more than 10,000 residents near the Yangluo Industrial Development Area in Wuhan's Xinzhou district took to the streets on June 28 to protest against a government plan to build a new waste incineration plant near their homes.

The local government dispatched around 1,000 riot police to disperse the crowd. After the violent clash, the local authorities pledged to shelve the incineration plant until they get consent from the public.

Mainland authorities have tightened online censorship since last year, and even the word “Hong Kong” has become a sensitive word since June this year. The Xinzhou protest took place amid the public uproar over the extradition bill in Hong Kong. In fact, there is a certain degree of similarity between the two protests. 

As Hong Kong and mainland people interact more frequently and deeply, there could be more cases like these.

While promoting integration, would officials have enough flexibility to properly handle unexpected situations they may not like?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 5

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist