HK bosses rule out debate on labour reforms
Hong Kong factory bosses have rejected appeals by the China Labour Bulletin activist group to debate a controversial plan that would allow Guangdong workers to collectively negotiate wages and benefits.
The CLB, a non-government body headed by democracy advocate Han Dongfang, wants a public debate with industrial organisations over the controversial plan. Nearly 60 employer groups have opposed the proposal so strongly that the Standing Committee of the Guangdong People's Congress decided not to submit the draft rule to next week's congress meeting.
Han, in a publicly released letter, said that he regretted the legislature's decision and warned that postponing the submission would do nothing to reduce industrial tensions in the province.
Representatives of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Hong Kong Young Industrialists Council said yesterday that they were not interested in debating the draft legislation.
'As employers, we look at the long-term interests and investment desires of Hong Kong investors across the border whereas the [CLB] looks from the workers' perspective and fights for the bargaining power of migrant workers,' the federation's deputy chairman Stanley Lau Chin-ho said.
Hong Kong Young Industrialists Council president Jack Tsui Ming-cheong said there was little to gain from a debate. 'We are speaking two different languages and unlikely to reach any consensus,' he said.
Influential trade unions in the city also declined to debate the plan.
Controversy flared last month when the Guangdong provincial government revealed details of proposed rules that would allow workers to elect representatives to sit on the board of a company and negotiate over wages, bonuses, paid leave, work hours, insurance, work conditions and safety standards.
The proposals call for one in every three directors to be a worker representative, and for them to have access to all corporate information other than that involving technological secrets or personal privacy.
By setting up a negotiation mechanism, the Guangdong provincial government aimed to minimise labour disputes following a wave of strikes and protests in July that hit big corporate names such as Honda and Foxconn.
Han pointed out that the mainland's economic growth hinged on spurring domestic consumption, and that raising workers' wages was the best way to meet the goal.
However, the proposals drew fire from an alliance of Hong Kong's four largest employer groups - the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce - and 53 smaller trade bodies.
Hong Kong factory owners employ about 10 million migrant workers in Guangdong but have faced rising labour and other costs over the past few years. They were concerned that participation by workers in company decision-making would ignite more disputes and risked leaking commercial secrets.
They warned that the planned legislation would spark an investment flight. Guangdong raised the minimum wage by about 20 per cent in May while severe labour shortages forced employers to improve working conditions, salaries and other benefits.
However, Han argued that many smaller firms, particularly Hong Kong enterprises, had countered higher wages by raising workloads and work hours. 'How many among you in the past 30 years have violated workers' rights and interests by ignoring national labour laws and regulations?' Han asked Hong Kong businessmen.
CLB spokesman Geoffrey Crothall said the group wanted a dialogue with the trade bodies.