Better wage conditions for Hong Kong social workers on the Legco agenda for Occupy activist turned lawmaker

Shiu Ka-chun also says social welfare sector needs ‘time to heal’ after infighting at Legco elections

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 7:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 10:02pm

An Occupy activist turned lawmaker representing the social welfare sector has vowed to improve the treatment and working conditions of social workers, and to allow the voices of social service users to be heard in the Legislative Council.

Baptist University social work lecturer Shiu Ka-chun also acknowledged the importance of uniting his sector, which saw an unprecendented five-horse race and infighting among pan-democrats during the Legco elections.

Shiu beat key rival Yip Kin-chung, president of the pro-democracy Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union, by a margin of 745 votes, but only garnered 40.8 per cent of all votes, falling short of the majority.

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“Our similar background prompted us to engage in a fiercer debate to differentiate ourselves. It might take time [to heal],” Shiu told the Post in an interview.

“I would be humble to build allies in the battlefield.”

Shiu, who hosted the nightly rally at Harcourt Road during the Occupy protests, vowed to press the government to overhaul the lump-sum grant system for non-governmental organisations.

Before the system was launched in 2000, all spending by welfare groups was covered by the government. But under the grant system – intended to boost flexibility – NGOs could decide their staff deployment and wages with the annual lump-sum received.

Some organisations opted for employing more lowly paid staff with the sum instead of spending on current workers, which upset market wages, harmed workers’ morale and also compromised service quality.

Shiu floated four key specific issues to tackle first, such as standardising the manning ratios of NGOs and requiring them to spend most of the grant on current staff wages, as well as narrowing the huge discrepancies in the salaries of social workers across organisations.

The activist of the Reclaiming Social Work Movement also vowed to bring in the voices of social welfare users which, he said, had often been neglected.

Shiu identified Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, now the sole lawmaker of the Labour Party with a focus on disabled rights and social welfare, as his closest ally in Legco.

Shiu said he would work closely along with Cheung on following up on elderly care issues, while Cheung is also working on a private member’s bill.