This is one race that labour chief Matthew Cheung has lost
Last-ditch effort to tackle the issues that matter to workers is too little, too late; it would be better to hand the files over to the next administration
Tackling retirement protection, the controversial employers’ offset mechanism for the Mandatory Provident Fund and standard working hours are a “race against time” and are like “walking on thin ice”, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the labour and welfare chief, says.
Clearly, resolving even one of these issues has been a huge challenge for Cheung.
Yet this sunset government is committed to resolving all three in the next six months. We feel your pain, Mr Cheung. It’s your boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is trying to push through these issues, even at the risk of arriving at resolutions that are less than desirable.
But Cheung wasn’t parachuted into his job just now; he’s been at his post since 2007. Leung promised to address such labour issues from the start of his term almost five years ago. Study panels and government-appointed groups were set up to look into them from every angle. So whose fault is it that these issues have been left to the last minute?
Leung and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have the excuse of having to focus on the failed political reform package for universal suffrage. Cheung has had no such distraction. Where has he been in the last five years? All three issues fall squarely within his portfolio.
But we know why: why stick your neck out if you can stall and study and consult them to death? Labour leaders had boycotted a standard working hours committee for a year and Cheung’s bureau was perfectly happy to let that drag out.
Cheung writes in his blog that he has to balance the interests of all stakeholders and any changes will have far-reaching impacts on the future labour market. You and your colleagues have been trying to squeeze a “consensus” from the two sides and clearly there isn’t one. As for far-reaching impacts, you are no doubt right. But the best minds have failed on their forecast of policy changes, so don’t sweat it.
It’s late in the day and you have been of no help to your boss. You have both blown your chances over the past five years to improve labour relations and bring them into the 21st century. Let’s collect all your files on these issues and give them to the next government.
It’s not good for your reputations, but it’s better that way for Hong Kong.