Minimum wage struggle likely to rally workers on Labour Day

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 May, 2010, 12:00am

A record number of workers are expected to take part in Labour Day marches today in a campaign for better wages and shorter working hours.

Turnout for trade union demonstrations is tipped to top 7,000, compared with 6,000 last year when the city was still in the grip of the financial meltdown and mass lay-offs.

This year key issues are the widening gap between rich and poor and the soon-to-be-set statutory minimum wage, with unions calling for HK$33 an hour and employers saying they cannot afford more than HK$24.

The Confederation of Trade Unions is staging a march from Victoria Park to Government House, starting at 2.30pm, and is expected to draw 5,000 participants. The rival Federation of Trade Unions expects at least 1,500 for its 10am march from Chater Garden.

Marches by nine other groups should push the total over 7,000, organisers say.

Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, head of the CTU, said unionists would not back down from their demand for a HK$33 minimum wage. 'I think it is natural that people feel furious about the suggestion of a minimum wage of HK$24 an hour,' he said.

'We have worked so hard to get the minimum wage. We have been fighting for more than 10 years to see such legislation and now they try every means to suppress the wage to a level that will mean nothing at all ... it is outrageous.'

The CTU march last year drew 3,500 workers.

Ip Wai-ming, a lawmaker and FTU senior secretary, said the federation's estimate of 1,500 marchers was conservative. 'We made the same estimation last year but 3,000 workers showed up.'

Ip said that as well as fighting for an hourly wage of at least HK$33, they were also seeking an eight-hour day.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, 33 per cent of employees work more than eight hours a day, while 20 per cent work more than 10 hours.

'People should have eight hours for rest, eight hours for work and eight hours for leisure,' Ip said.

He was supported by lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood and Worker's Education Centre, who is expecting to lead 500 marchers today.

'Workers grievances stem from two factors - low income and long working hours,' he said. 'Everyone knows that many workers now work more than 12 hours a day, which does not leave them time to attend to their families or enhance their skills and knowledge.'

In Macau, about 2,000 workers are expected to join Labour Day demonstrations. Unionist Ng Sek-io urged the government to crack down on illegal workers. 'There are so many illegal workers here and the government keeps ignoring the problem. Our own people's livelihoods are severely affected,' he said.

Battle goes on

The number of years that union members have been fighting for a legislated minimum wage: 10