My Take

Bad bosses, and there’s little that CY Leung can do about it

Hong Kong leader is desperate to keep his promises for a better deal for workers, but at every turn employers put up a stumbling block

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2016, 11:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2016, 11:01pm

I commend Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for trying to keep the unfulfilled promises he made during his election campaign with just six months to go in his term. Perhaps he is worried about his legacy. But Leung has a lot of unresolved issues, none that is anywhere near a settlement among stakeholders.

Of these, he singles out three: standard working hours; the so-called offsetting mechanism in the Mandatory Provident Fund; and retirement pensions.

The Leung administration has had special bodies to study these key labour issues since he took office. But here we are, almost five years later.

Labour representatives have been boycotting the committee on working hours for a year. They recently offered to have 44 working hours per week not as the legal limit, but as the eventual goal to be reached after a period to be negotiated. Even that could not solicit a formal reply of interest from business leaders.

Compromise on Hong Kong working hours finally in sight as unionists propose 44-hour work week

There’s the bosses’ sincerity for you. When you realise the median weekly working hours for men are 45.7 and for women 44.3, the demand for 44 hours is more than reasonable. Oh, and we are nowhere close to agreeing on hourly compensation rates for work beyond the standard hours.

Many people have called for scrapping the MPF offset because it enables bosses to settle severance and long-service payments using their prior contributions to an employee’s MPF account. HK$29.2 billion has been withdrawn from workers’ MPF savings in the past 15 years. The business community shows no sign of compromise. The government reportedly wants to cancel long-service payment and replace severance with an unemployment insurance fund. That might work, or maybe not, but certainly not in six months’ time. Alternatively, it could phase out the offset over a period.

Hong Kong government ‘likely’ to propose means-tested pension plan, says advisory commission

Lastly, pensions. A government consultation finds 90 per cent of respondents favour a universal pension. The government claims someone or some group was behind the overwhelming responses. Who knows? But it’s clear the government wants pensions to be means-tested. Whether it was due to government pressure or not, the Commission on Poverty doesn’t even have a position on this.

Unless unionists and welfare activists cave in over the next six months, it’s hard to see any resolution. But then, that would hardly be a victory for labour, for which Leung had once claimed to fight.