Thousands of workers descend on Victoria Park for Labour Day march

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 10:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 7:21pm

Thousands of workers from across the employment spectrum descended on Victoria Park on Thursday for the annual Labour Day march organised by the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU).

Domestic and migrant workers, teachers, marine department employees and construction workers took to the streets to demand better employment conditions and a raft of policy changes - with many calling on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to fulfil his election and policy address promises.

Watch: Protesters mark May Day in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a first world economy, but a third-world labour protection system. It's shameful
Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan

“Hong Kong has a first world economy, but a third-world labour protection system. It’s shameful,” said Labour Party chairman and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan at the afternoon march from Victoria Park organised by the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU).

At least 12 migrant worker groups were present, calling for better minimum wages for migrant workers, strict regulation of recruitment agencies and allowing workers to live outside of their employers' homes.

Protesters also made clear their opposition to increasing overseas labour in Hong Kong and vented frustrations at the MPF scheme.

"Regulating working hours and dealing with the system of Mandatory Provident Fund offset severance pay were both in Leung Chun-ying's policy address and in his election manifesto. But he's handed in a blank slate so far," said lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.

A government spokesman said the government was committed to improving employees’ benefits “at a pace commensurate with Hong Kong’s socio-economic development”, with a necessity to strike a balance between employee and employer interests.

Earlier, scuffles broke out outside Hong Kong's government offices as a group of Labour Day protesters were told they could not hand in a petition calling for improved workers' rights.

Demonstrators were held back by police after attempting to force their way into Central Government Offices in Tamar after their petition was refused.

Representatives from the Neighbourhood and Workers Services Centre had followed police instructions on where to gather but were then told they were not "within office grounds" and so the document could not be accepted.

After minutes of pushing and shoving, police reinforcements arrived and a government representative finally emerged from the building and said he would accept the petition.

It was then torn up in front of his face and handed over in pieces by a protester.

The scenes came as thousands of people took to the streets in a series of demonstrations throughout the day

People had started to gather at Southorn Playground in Wan Chai at 9am to take part in the day's first march, organised by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.

Video: Hongkongers march on Labour Day

Many donned costumes as protesters yelled slogans demanding laws on maximum working hours, better retirement protection and no additional import of overseas labour. 

"We are strongly against importing more overseas labour," said chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions, Stanley Ng Chau-pei. "We also demand that the government cancel the Mandatory Provident Fund offset severance pay system."

Mother Lau Kwong-ling, who has worked in an office and been involved with the unions for 25 years, said: "Hong Kong's labour laws have been around for a while, but they've never been complete and us working people suffer."

Hairstylist Neeman Leung donned a costume of bulging eyes, a bleeding nose and face and messy hair to illustrate the effects of the long working hours expected in the industry.

"We work from dawn to night, our bodies wear down but we never have time to see a doctor," he said, adding that those in the industry - particularly apprentices - often put in 15- or 16-hour days, with no overtime, public holidays or annual leave.

He said the government needed to put more resources into training the labour force as well as protecting them.

For Poon Wai-yin, a member of a union for care workers, the importing of overseas labour was an issue.

She said bringing labour into Hong Kong was threatening jobs and called for the government to plough resources into training local workers and improving their skills and career prospects in the growing industry.

Up to 5,000 people were involved in last year's event, calling for legislation on standard working hours, a collective bargaining law and an annual review of the minimum wage.

Meanwhile in Macau, May 1 means not just Labour Day, but is the day of the year where pro-democracy residents gather to fight for an array of social reforms - similar to July 1 in Hong Kong.

This year casino workers in particular are being very vocal following reports that employers are putting pressure on the government to import mainland and overseas labour due to limited local supply.

Various groups were this afternoon gathering at Iao Hon Park and nearby Alameda da Tranquilidade ahead of a series of marches.

Macau Youth Dynamics, which boasts that it for not taking any public money, was just one group makes its views known, calling for more public space.

"The Macau government is too inclined to tourism. Whenever there's land sale it goes to hotels, casinos and private properties," said Cici Wong Hio-san, the group's chief supervisor.

Separately this afternoon hundreds of people attended a concert on far-flung Hac Sha beach, the timing of which overlapped with the protests downtown.

The concert, organised by Macau's government, featured almost 70 singers from Hong Kong, mainland China and Malaysia.

The government has faced criticism for organising the event at the same time as the protests and has faced accusations that it was a deliberate move to divert people away from demonstraing.

Hong Kong stars Kay Tse On-kei, Rubberband and C AllStar earlier pulled out of the show, following widespread online criticism.

"I came here to support my idol, Jason Chan," said a Macau schoolgirl, Fion Lee, referring to Hong Kong singer.