Labour union aims to spread its wings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Hong Kong's largest labour union group is preparing to form several trade unions to represent lawyers, social workers and property agents as part of its efforts to recruit professionals to reinvent itself.

The biggest challenge facing the Federation of Trade Unions, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary on Wednesday, was to attract more members with middle-class and professional backgrounds in light of economic restructuring, federation president and executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong said.

He said the federation needed to readjust its work style and strategy in its fight for labour rights as white-collar workers and professionals accounted for 80 per cent of members recruited in the past decade.

'Our union has had a strong support base among blue-collar workers in the past few decades but we can't rest on our laurels,' Mr Cheng said.

'In the past, we used to focus on helping workers to claim their unpaid wages but the needs of white-collar workers are different from their blue-collar colleagues.

'Now we are facing new problems, such as how to handle complaints from female office workers about being sexually harassed by their superiors.'

Mr Cheng said some federation members who were lawyers had been holding discussions with other like-minded lawyers in the past few months on forming a subsidiary union under the federation.

'Some journalists familiar with us also asked us to help them form a union,' said Mr Cheng, whose federation has been helping former Sing Pao employees recover unpaid wages and Mandatory Provident Fund contributions.

The federation has set up unions representing workers in industries such as insurance, securities and medical care in recent years and set up the Financial Planning Professionals Association in 2006.

Founded in 1948, the federation has been viewed as the flagship of the traditional Beijing-friendly camp. The federation's membership has increased from 22,000 in 1948 to 310,000 this year.

Mr Cheng said the federation, which he claimed faced unfair treatment by the colonial government before 1997, supported the special administrative region government.

'But we recognise the fact the government unavoidably tilts in favour of the business sector, as Hong Kong is a capitalistic society,' he said.

The federation would not hesitate to criticise the government if the administration's policies undermined workers' interests.

He warned that society could face social instability as salaries of low-income earners were not picking up despite the economic recovery in recent years.

Mr Cheng said the 'wage protection movement', launched by the government in October 2006, had proved ineffective.

Under the movement, employers are asked to pledge to pay cleaners and security guards no less than the median wage.

'I believe the government will have no choice but to decide in October to legislate on setting a minimum wage for cleaners and security guards,' he said.

Mr Cheng said the federation was still studying the feasibility of setting up an affiliated political organisation which would have the job of handling electoral affairs.

The federation has four seats in the legislature.

Broader base

The Federation of Trade Unions aims to have 350,000 members

It wants to broaden its base by representing more professional groups, but currently the number of subsidiary unions stands at 225