In a last-ditch effort to defend their lunch break, brokers enlisted the support of restaurant operators and trade union members in their protest against the stock exchange yesterday.
About 1,000 banner-waving protesters gathered at the entrance of the stock exchange trading hall to oppose the bourse's plan to cut their lunch break further in March.
Unlike the protests held last year, which only included brokers, representatives from trade unions and restaurant operators in Central also took part in yesterday's action.
'The shorter lunch break will not only affect brokers but also the many restaurants in Central, as they will lose business from brokers who simply have no time to lunch,' said Patrick Lam Tak-ming, the chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Employees Union, which organised the protest. 'The exchange's move will force small brokers and restaurants out of business.'
Lam said the extension of trading hours since March last year - which saw the traditional two-hour lunch break cut to one hour and 30 minutes - gave small brokers an extra burden.
A further increase in trading hours from March 5 will see the break cut by another 30 minutes, to an hour.
Wong Kwok-hing, a legislator from the trade union, attended the march and urged the exchange to consider the brokers' demands. 'The exchange needs to address the difficulties faced by the many front-line staff,'' he said.
The exchange wants to match the trading hours of other world markets, which open six to eight hours a day. Previously, the city's market was opened for only four hours, the shortest trading hours of any major market.
However, the protesters' efforts may be in vain.
Exchange chairman Ronald Arculli said the extension of trading hours was needed to enhance the competitiveness of the market. 'We understand the difficulties of the front-line staff. The exchange will urge the bosses of brokerage firms to add resources to support these staff to make sure they have sufficient time for lunch,'' he said.