Striking while stoves are the hottest issue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 February, 1993, 12:00am

MORE than 35 salivating newsmen lined up with cameras and microphones outside the front door of Legco yesterday, praying for a repeat of last week's kisses-and-roses dispensing operation by a flock of Cathay Pacific Airways girls.

But who turned up? The first to arrive was an old man with a brown wrinkled face like a walnut. Charming, no doubt, but not the most kissable person they had ever seen. About 30 similar weather-beaten characters followed.

The photographers looked sheepish. ''We outnumber the protesters,'' admitted one with embarrassment.

The men were fisherman from Peng Chau and Cheung Chau, who had decided to trek to the Big Smoke to tell arriving members a shocking discovery they had made. Some idiotic clerk in the bowels of the Government had arranged to build an airport on their favourite bit of water. Could you believe it? Legco members could.

They promised to help the fishermen and trooped into the chamber, the Cathay girls still on their minds.

When the meeting started, members complained to the Government that the Cathay strike had revealed that Hongkong was not very good at industrial stoppages, not being experienced in that sort of thing.

Manpower Secretary John Chan promised to study the subject so that we could have better strikes in future. He then accidentally made a joke. It was a case of ''striking the right balance'', he said.

Mr Chan had not noticed his witticism, so Ron Arculli pointed it out. ''The secretary in his reply referred to striking the right balance - I'm sure no pun was intended.'' Mr Chan rose to his feet, looking taken aback at this allegation that he had been humorous. ''I confirm to the honourable member that no pun was intended,'' he declared. The world breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews had a go. ''I start by saying that one should strike a note of caution,'' he said. Nobody laughed. It was probably his delivery.

Mr Chan told members that in 1991, Hongkong lost 202 working days because of strikes. In comparison, workers in India took 15.7 million days off work. This raised a lot of eyebrows, particularly among the United Democrats. Fifteen million days off? Wherehad Hongkong gone wrong? Dr Conrad Lam was also in a witty mood. He decided to ask Mr Michael Sze, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, a question using the trendy phrase ''second stove'', meaning shadow government.

''According to his reply, the election in 1994-95 should be open, fair and acceptable. Can it be regarded as building a new stove, and if no, why not?'' asked Dr Lam, bafflingly.

Deputy President John Swaine thought about this. ''I'm afraid I . . .'' he began, and then tried shaking his head to see if that helped. It didn't. ''Could you repeat that question?'' Dr Lam did so, but no one was any the wiser as to what it meant, so it was abandoned.

There seemed to be some confusion in the chamber as to whether the ''second stove'' was metaphorical or referred to an actual kitchen appliance.

Mr Edward Ho asked a question about the dangers of air-conditioners, water pipes, chimneys and other items falling on one's head from a great height.

Mr Tony Eason, Secretary for Planning, said: ''I am relieved that Mr Ho's question contains no reference to stoves.'' Then Mr Martin Lee looked at Mr Eason and asked: ''Will he confirm to this council that anybody seeking to erect a new stove before 1997 in this territory will require his prior consent?'' This was surely the first time the planning department had been challenged about giving planning permission for a metaphor.

Mr Swaine decided that the debate was becoming surrealistic, so he cut it short.

''After a session like that, I could do with 15 million days off,'' said a member in the corridor.