My Take

On Labour Day, a reminder of CY Leung’s failings to Hong Kong’s working class

In his election campaign, Hong Kong’s chief executive had posed as a champion of the working class but progress has been painfully slow

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 9:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

What is striking about the demands made by workers on Labour Day is how reasonable they are. In an advanced and wealthy economy, our grass roots are still fighting for standard working hours, a reasonably universal pension plan, and scrapping the so-called “offset mechanism” by which bosses may use their contributions to a worker’s MPF plan to make his or her severance and long-service payments.

In his election campaign, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying posed as a champion of labour. Now, at the end of his term, he has little to show for it. He has managed to form several committees to “study” the problems.

The government and the business community have made it look impossible to meet such labour demands without undermining businesses. Given a choice, labour interests will always have to take a back seat to business profits.

More than 5,000 hit Hong Kong’s streets on Labour Day to demand standard working hours and universal pension scheme

The committee on working hours is rightly being boycotted by its labour representatives, several of whom are hardcore Beijing loyalists. So far, it has come up with little other than launching a second round of consultation. But one thing is for sure: whatever its final recommendations, the powers-that-be behind the committee have decided against legislating standard working hours.

Likewise, the government has essentially killed any pension plan that is not a variant of a welfare plan. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has claimed such a scheme would cost HK$22.6 billion a year, which she implies is unsustainable. If the equivalent of 1 per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP is not affordable, then what is? Her unstated assumption seems to be the city’s economy will not grow in the next 50 years! If so, we ought to be told.

Hopeless inadequacy of MPF scheme is problem No 1 in review of pension arrangements

Meanwhile, everyone admits the MPF “offset” undermines pension security for workers. Even World Bank pension economist Robert Palacios observed recently that Hong Kong was the only developed economy he knew of which allowed for such an offset. He was being diplomatic. In most countries, it’s called raiding a pension fund, a criminal act that carries a heavy jail term.

But then the same argument is being used: scrapping the offset would endanger many small to medium-sized businesses. Evidence? None actually other than on the say-so of officials.

If Leung runs for a second term, labour constituents must not forgive and forget his betrayal.