Firefighters ready for three-day slowdown
Firefighters will begin a three-day work slowdown tomorrow to protest against a breakdown in labour negotiations over a long-sought cut in their working hours.
Members of the Fire Services Department Staffs General Association plan to perform only emergency services from tomorrow to Friday. Other work, such as cleaning and clerical tasks, are to be halted. Over 90 per cent of the department's personnel are union members.
Union chairman Lee Tak-kei said yesterday that he regretted that the Fire Services Department management had refused to reduce the firefighters' working week to 48 hours - from the current 54 - after discussions with fire chiefs, including Director Chan Chor-kam.
'Our colleagues are being very restrained in their reactions at the moment,' Lee said. 'I hope the management will provide better options. If not, we do not rule out further actions in future.'
Last week firefighters voted against a government proposal to reduce their weekly hours to 51, saying the plan, which included a reduction in night shifts, would compromise public safety.
About 2,000 members - one-third of frontline personnel - voted against the offer, even though firefighters had been campaigning for years to get a shorter work week. They last had their weekly workload cut - to 54 hours from 60 - 21 years ago.
Police officers work a 48-hour week, correctional service officers 49 hours, customs officers 51 hours and immigration officers 44 hours, a Legislative Council report found.
Ng Kuen-chi, assistant director of fire safety, said the department would start consulting employees about the proposed 51-hour week. If the result shows the majority support the proposal, the department would launch a trial scheme beginning at less busy fire stations, he said.
'We have been open to reducing working hours,' Ng said. 'We have been negotiating with the unions and hope that a consensus can be reached.'
He said the demand for emergency services at night was about 60 per cent of the daytime level and he was confident that a 51-hour week could be achieved.
Legco paper's estimate on the number of additional firefighters a 48-hour week would require, a cost of HK$270 million