Storm is not over for Carrie Lam as traffic complaints flood Hong Kong leader’s Facebook page
Anger directed at government for not taking lead to declare day off for workers with public transport still crippled from monster storm
Hong Kong internet users have flooded city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s social media page with angry comments over traffic disruptions as work resumed a day after Typhoon Mangkhut battered the city.
The chief executive issued a statement on Sunday, calling “for employers to show understanding and flexibility in handling staff who have practical difficulties in resuming work”.
But on Monday, train stations were packed with commuters, as frustration boiled over with some saying authorities should have urged employers to grant staff a day off. Bus services were mostly suspended and rail operations partially, as the city reeled from the impact of the monster storm.
At 5pm on Monday, Lam’s Sunday Facebook post had attracted more than 15,000 “angry” responses – compared to about 1,700 “likes” – and more than 6,700 comments, many of which were from disgruntled users.
Northern district council member Yiu Ming, a member of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, earlier commented on the post: “Can MTR and bus services resume normal operations on Monday? If not, call it a day off and don’t make money the priority.”
Terence Chong Tai-leung, Chinese University associate professor of economics, said if the entire city did not work on Monday, economic loss could amount to about HK$7.3 billion (US$930 million). This was calculated by dividing Hong Kong’s gross domestic product last year by 365 days, he explained.
But Chong said the actual figure could be lower as some could work from home while others could make up for the loss in future.
“For example … if retailers did not sell any clothes on a weekday like today, they could make up for it on a busier day,” Chong said.
Asked on Monday if the government should have given people the day off work, Lam said it would be more suitable for “employers and employees to handle the issue with mutual understanding”.
“I call upon employers not to punish their employees who were late or could not make it to work,” she said.
On civil servants not making it to work, Lam said: “We also talked about this internally. If they have difficulty in going to work due to issues with public transport, they can just call their superiors and we won’t say it was an absence and they don’t need to apply for leave, considering the special situation this time.”
Hours after Lam’s remarks at about 9.30am, the Civil Service Bureau reportedly issued notices to bureau and department chiefs, reminding them to handle their colleagues’ attendance on Monday with flexibility. No-shows due to public transport issues should not be taken as absences.
But a civil service union chief questioned the comments by Lam and the bureau.
Leung Chau-ting, chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, told media many colleagues complained they did not know of the existence of such flexibility.
Many civil servants had already started their journeys to work when they heard Lam’s comments and were annoyed, he said, adding the government should have announced staff did not need to work in the morning.
City University political scientist Ray Yep Kin-man said Lam should have followed the Macau government’s example by giving civil servants in non-emergency services a day off.
“Officials should be informed about the damage on Sunday and know that it would be impossible for a lot of people to go to work … If the government had taken the lead, a lot of companies would choose to rest too,” he said.
A staff member at Shui On Centre’s property management office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the building’s pump house was flooded and shut down, resulting in a cut-off of air conditioning in “most parts”.
The person said “many tenants” still had to work without air conditioning in their offices, while the engineering department made urgent repairs.
Hong Kong’s major banks also mostly returned to business on Monday as the city cleaned up in the aftermath of Mangkhut.
HSBC, one of Hong Kong’s largest banks, said it recorded superficial damage at some of its branches, but generally escaped any major issue. The bank, like many of its rivals, allowed employees to work from home if they had difficulty getting to offices.
“Our first priority is the safety of our staff, customers and their families,” the bank said.
The Bank of East Asia said its Tai O i-Financial Centre was closed on Monday because of flooding, but other branches were opened for business as usual.
“We will exercise discretion regarding work arrangements in the event that staff members encounter difficulties when commuting to their workplace,” the bank said.