• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:16pm
Occupy Central
NewsHong Kong

Towngas backs down after asking staff to sign anti-Occupy Central petition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 8:25am

Towngas did a rapid U-turn yesterday on collecting staff signatures against the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement.

Hours after staff reported department heads had distributed petition forms drawn up by the anti-Occupy group Alliance for Peace and Democracy to employees, the company said it had decided not to collect them.

This came after employees accused the public utility company of exerting undue pressure on them to sign the forms.

The pro-Beijing group wants to collect 800,000 signatures to outnumber the 787,000 people who voted in Occupy Central's unofficial referendum on electoral reform last month. Some mainland-owned firms and pro-Beijing groups have encouraged staff to sign the petition.

An employee who works at the Towngas head office in Quarry Bay said: "When other colleagues asked what would happen if we didn't submit the form, our superior only said we 'think too much'. I didn't think this would happen to me since I don't work for a mainland-owned company."

The employee said some colleagues protested by writing slogans in support of Occupy when submitting their forms unsigned.

"The department head later said it was not essential to return the form. Perhaps they changed their mind after the news was leaked to the media," the employee said.

It was reported that employees who received the forms in the morning were told to return them to their bosses by Friday.

A Towngas spokeswoman said the company had decided not to collect the forms on the alliance's behalf "to soothe employees' concerns".

"It [distributing the forms] was only meant to provide convenience to our staff," she said when asked why the company had decided to distribute messages of a political nature to staff. She added that the alliance had approached the company about distributing the petition. However, Alliance spokesman Ng Chau-pei said it had not approached any firm directly, but hoped to get permission to set up booths in shopping malls to solicit signatures.

"Many groups and companies have approached us … some [companies] are perhaps more active, but we would not influence how others run their companies," Ng aid.

Occupy Central co-organiser Dr Chan Kin-man said no employees of a company should feel pressured to take a stance on a political issue. "It is unavoidable that the public will think the company has a political stance since they are only doing this for one side," he said.

Henderson Land, which owns a controlling stake in Towngas, said it had yet to decide whether to support the alliance's petition.

A Henderson spokeswoman said the company opposed Occupy Central because its plans to shut down the business district "would harm the city's stability and prosperity".

Two other public utilities, HK Electric and CLP Power, said they had no plans to allow the petition drive on their premises.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to free up manpower to handle "mass public order events", a police source said the force was exploring hiring officers who had retired over the past two years part-time to provide logistical support. Such a move would be unprecedented, the source said.


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This article is now closed to comments

Here we go - companies and bosses thinking they have the right to impose their political beliefs on their employees! These mainland supporters will never get it. Almost 800,000 Hong Kong citizens freely decided to participate and to vote in the recent voluntary referendum. Nobody co-erced anybody or used the workplace to intimidate. This is what we're fighting for - freedom to hold our own political views without interference from the state and most certainly without any interference from our employers.
One thing these companies have done is seriously undermine the credibility of this poll. May will criticise its validity, arguing quite rightly, that many signatures have been obtained through extortion and that it's impossible to know how many signatures represent people who are genuinely opposed to OC.
You're very right though - they 'don't get it' - they don't understand and certainly don't respect an environment of political freedom. Soon you can expect comments criticizing you for your comment being 'an effort to censor' and that you are a 'hypocrite'. (which would be ridiculous - of course)
hard times !
These pro-CCP local elements just don't have the guts nor confidence that they can grab more than 800,000 signatures in any proper ways ! So, they have to resort to ask big companies (which bosses have businesses on Mainland) to force their employees to sign the petitions ! How shameful these guys are ! And Chow Yung and his colleagues are the culprit of this signature campaign !
The way that Anti-OC organisers are conducting this vote does not make sense one bit, why can they not just conduct a vote in a proper way with no strings attached, or are they actually concerned or not confident that they don't have the numbers to begin with? Is that why they resort to these shady tactics.
"An employee who works at the Towngas head office in Quarry Bay said: "When other colleagues asked what would happen if we didn't submit the form, our superior only said we 'think too much'." - If my subordinate looked at me and asked, I'd say "you'll get fired" and stare at them.
hard times !
I just can't understand why employees of local public ultilities have to be forced to sign petition forms with fixed stance like 'anti-Occupy Central' which goal is to demand a geniune universal suffrage though the actual act of occupying the commercai hub might be disturbing to the companies operated there ! Employees are hired to serve the company's clients/customers and should never be forced to take political stance against their own free will ! Of course,those who work at China-owned companies are exception and those Mainland students who come here to study are also learnt to be forced to sign petitions of such stance ! How absurd and unreasonable it sounds !
So this is how Towngas handles internal issues in their corporate culture. Leaks in the gas network? Be quiet. Urgent maintenance needed? Be quiet. By silencing employees and creating a culture of fear, they will create a corporate culture where staff will be afraid of speaking up. This can jeopardize human life if there is a risk of gas leaks or explosion and staff are afraid of acting because of repressive internal corporate culture.
If the anti-OC camp wants to collect enough signatures to outnumber those collected in the 'referendum' do it properly. They do have the financial resources and if this is done properly they gain credibility. Of course they do worry that if they get a tepid response it will only backfire on them and will give more ammo to the opposition.


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