Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Much work needed to bridge gap between employers and employees

Today is Labour Day yet one would be hard-pressed to notice it in Hong Kong, where long-standing disputes between bosses and workers remain unresolved; it’s time the government stepped up its efforts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 5:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2018, 5:47am

With the minimum wage not due to increase until next May, Hong Kong workers may feel there is little reason for celebration today.

Unlike in some places where Labour Day celebrations are serious affairs, Hong Kong usually marks it as just another public holiday, with little reference to workers’ rights.

This attitude belies the challenges ahead.

We are not just referring to occasional headlines of workers being ripped off by contractors or businesses, and labour groups complaining about filibustering tactics in the legislature that delay public works projects.

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While these are ongoing issues that warrant attention, the government needs to demonstrate greater commitment and determination on the labour front.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to her credit, has already announced some good news on paternity leave, which is to be raised from three to five days. But she needs no reminder that a raft of outstanding issues are still in her in-tray.

The pledge to scrap the controversial arrangement for bosses to claw back contributions to provident funds to offset long service and severance payments is nowhere near implementation; nor is the promise of standard working hours left over from the previous administration. Just as challenging is the need to expand the importation of labour.

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All these are putting Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong to the test. The former university professor is known for his intelligence – his IQ score is reportedly 160 – but he has yet to demonstrate his political nous on issues that affect workers. When it comes to tackling business and labour interests, political skill comes before intelligence. Comfort is to be found in the fact that our labour relations are still cordial compared to elsewhere.

This owes much to the long-standing approach for bosses and workers to sort out disputes, with the help of the government, under the tripartite mechanism.

But if the experience of the provident fund offsetting mechanism and the impasse over standard working hours are any reference, both sides are seemingly less willing to compromise.

At stake is not just labour relations, but competitiveness and economic vitality. Officials need to work harder to bring the business and labour sectors onto the same page.