Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

The house always wins, and Stanley's bridge proves it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2008, 12:00am

'Asked who would benefit most from the bridge, Mr Ho said: 'The casinos in Macau. ... in the past, even if you took the quickest ferry it would take more than an hour, but in the future it will be a 20-minute car ride'.'

SCMP, March 3

There you have it from the ultimate source himself. Casino boss Stanley Ho Hung-sun says that the big winner of the proposed HK$60 billion Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge will be the casinos of Macau.

In the same editions of this newspaper, under the headline 'Bumper year for Macau tourism', we quoted the head of Macau's tourist office boasting that Macau had drawn in 8.17 million visitors from Hong Kong last year.

Yet we in Hong Kong are to pick up 50.2 per cent of the shortfall if a private developer will not cover the entire cost of building the bridge (which none will) and Macau only 14.7 per cent. We have agreed to hollow out our own tourism business, to pay away our money to make it easy for the visitors to skip Hong Kong and go straight to the Macau casinos.

Yet Stanley clearly sees no reason to soft-pedal this personal triumph scored at the expense of (and to the insult of) Hong Kong taxpayers. He was quite happy to crow about it to reporters in Beijing. You almost get the impression that he thinks the bridge was his due.

What was that again about the intelligence of the human species? We have clear disproof of it in the bureaucrats who agreed to this deal.

'Among the proposed amendments is one concerning overtime, which the law caps at 36 hours a week, he [watchmaker Stanley Lau Chin-ho] said. This has forced manufacturers to hire more workers to maintain production schedules, leading to higher costs.

'Mr Lau also pointed to a law allowing employees who work for the same firm for 10 consecutive years to seek contracts with open-ended employment duration, which he described as the equivalent of an 'iron rice bowl'.'

SCMP, March 3

You get the picture, I'm sure. The Federation of Hong Kong Industries is of the view that only its own members should be given an iron rice bowl and the ranks of the workers should not.

It is thus to join hands with the Liberal Party (I have a prize for the first person who can tell the two apart) to plead with the authorities in Beijing that Hong Kong factory owners 'victimised' (our reporter's word) by new trade and labour policies be given relief before they are squeezed out of the Pearl River Delta.

Now just think about this again. These people object to a rule setting 36 hours a week as a maximum for overtime. That's more overtime than French government unions allow their members to put in for total time at work. And yet the employers' objections in Hong Kong are not that this is too much overtime but that it is not enough.

Open your ears a little and you can hear horror stories of teenage migrant workers just across the border forced to work themselves to a sleepless stupor for derisory wages that are frequently paid late and sometimes never.

The boss, however, has blithely agreed to extremely tight delivery deadlines that he fully knows he can achieve only by trampling on the health of his workers, this in a country that still formally recognises the dictatorship of the proletariat.

These proles have no option. For them it is mind-numbing work virtually round the clock, night after night, or be sacked and have nowhere to go. Limiting mandatory open-ended overtime work forces employers to hire more workers, which leads to higher costs, Mr Lau says, and we can't have that.

What makes it all particularly ironic is that he also says: 'We support the policies in the long run but can't handle them in one go ...'

How about 30 years for a long run? That's about the length of time that Hong Kong-owned factories have operated out of Pearl River Delta locations. It is notable that the loudest screams seem to come from the industrialists who have been there longest but have done the least to move upmarket. Many of them still make the same low-end rubbish with which they started.

You have undoubtedly heard of the Parable of the Talents. The first servant got five and made five more, the second two and made two more and the third buried his one talent in the ground and made nothing from it at all, for which he got the chop, so to speak.

In 30 years Japan went from bashing pans and pots to surprising the world with its electronics and cars. South Korea is doing the same thing now. But Hong Kong manufacturers who moved across the border have dug their talents into the ground and now have nothing to show for them.

I know why it happened. They were given the iron rice bowl that they want to deny their workers. Beijing made life easy for them and that is how they took life, easy. And now Beijing wants to make life a little less easy and they think it's unfair.

Well, I know where their tears should go. Pull the chain when you're done, fellas.