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Hong Kong Budget 2018-2019

‘We are working like dogs’: Hong Kong workers’ groups march for standard hours and more public holidays

Activists call for sweeteners in the annual budget, which finance chief Paul Chan will deliver at the end of the month

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 10:33pm

Various labour groups and political parties on Sunday protested at different government buildings to call for things including standard working hours, a smaller disparity between rich and poor, and 17 days of public holiday for all workers.

The groups were taking the opportunity to make their final appeals ahead of the annual budget, which Finance Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po will deliver on February 28.

About 20 people from the Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre (NWSC) marched from the Admiralty Centre to the government headquarters at Tamar. Citing results of a survey conducted on 311 residents in the first two weeks of February, the group said nearly 74 per cent of respondents felt that the past year had been arduous or very arduous.

The most popular measures people hoped for from the budget were increased elderly dental services and more residential elderly care homes, they said.

Reducing land sales from government to private hands while increasing public housing was also a popular idea among respondents, with 91 per cent supporting or strongly supporting it. And 88 per cent said they supported or strongly supported subsidies for electricity bills, according to the survey.

“The government is expected to have high fiscal surpluses this year,” Ivan Wong Yun-tat, an NWSC spokesman, said.

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“Taking that and the large amount of pressure residents are under, the government should consider returning the wealth to the people by giving cash handouts.”

On Saturday Chan, speaking on a radio programme, expressed reservations about using his huge surplus to dish out cash sweeteners. The city government is set to reap a massive surplus of close to HK$160 billion this year, much larger than the original estimate of HK$16.3 billion for 2017-18.

Separately, about 20 people from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions marched from the HSBC building in Central to Government House.

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Carrying a banner that said they were “working like dogs” – in reference to the newly arrived Year of the Dog – the group said that since taking office, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had avoided legislating standard working hours.

A poll by investment bank UBS in 2016 found that Hong Kong had the longest working hours in the world, workers clocking up more than 50 hours a week on average, while those in Tokyo put in 39 and Parisians just 30.

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The group also called on the government to give 17 days of public holidays to all employees. It said about 1 million frontline and poorer employees are entitled to just 12 days of statutory holiday each year, unlike their white-collar counterparts, who enjoy 17 days of public holidays. That is because, while the city has 17 public holidays, not all are mandatory.

In a blog post on Sunday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said he had actively fought for resources for his portfolio, adding he was expecting “good news” from Chan’s budget.

He said that strengthening the Social Welfare Department’s services to protect families and children and improving maternity and paternity leave were among his bureau’s priorities.