Kwai Tsing dock workers strike

Hong Kong political veteran Elsie Tu criticises tycoons with no conscience

Political veteran Elsie Tu says things are getting worse in Hong Kong as the wealth gap widens

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:48pm

Political veteran Elsie Tu laments the widening income disparity in Hong Kong and has taken a shot at tycoons who have no conscience.

The former lawmaker and urban councillor, who turns 100 on June 2, became emotional when expressing sympathy for striking dock workers and anger with a billionaire, whom she declined to name.

"I think shame on you. Why should you have [billions of dollars] when the poor can't even buy meat for their children's food?" she said. "How could you have [billions of dollars] and still want more? The dockers are getting so little and their conditions are disgraceful."

Hundreds of dockers have been fighting for more than three weeks for a pay rise and better working conditions from port operator Hongkong International Terminals, a unit of Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa.

Tu, born in Newcastle, England, settled in Hong Kong in 1951 after three years of missionary work on the mainland. She is perceived by some as pro-Beijing and became known for her antipathy towards colonialism and corruption as well as her fight for the underdog and work in education.

Years on, she sighs about the widening income gap.

"I have a horrible feeling it's going down again. I think things are getting worse now. It makes me so angry," she said, urging both the government and the well-off to do more to narrow the wealth gap.

"We have some rich men who have a conscience. We have some rich men who seem to have no conscience. The elderly people in Hong Kong are not getting what they need. Some elderly people can manage, but there are others who are getting HK$1,000-something a month, now it's going be HK$2,000. That's better, but even that - where do you have the money to pay the rent?" asked Tu.

Her passion to serve the community, Tu said, was seeded by her father, John Hume, and deepened through years of service to society.

"He was the one who said to me, 'You must respect people everywhere'."

Tu served as an urban councillor from 1963 to 1995, as a lawmaker from 1988 to 1995 and a member of the Provisional Legco from 1997 to 1998.

She said the gratitude of the public was her motivation in the face of difficulties and pressure from the colonial government to silence her.

With her 100th birthday looming, Tu said: "I usually have the same wish - and that is we can have a world at peace instead of all wanting to fight. I have seen a first world war, second world war. I don't want to see another."