CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Workers offered a walking stick

HONG KONG (SE): While welcoming a plan to subsidise transport costs for working people presented by the chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, in her maiden policy address on October 11, the Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs is calling it a token gesture or cosmetic throwaway line.
In a statement released on the same day Lam addressed the Legislative Council, the commission said that the fundamental difficulties faced by working people involve long work hours, low wages and a lack of any realistic retirement protection plan.
In a call to the government to focus on the real issues confronting working people, the commission flagged the long overdue legislation on maximum work hours as being the top priority that should receive immediate attention.
The commission cites the recent tragic deaths of three people who were hit by a bus under the control of a driver in the midst of working some extremely long shifts with only short breaks in between.
It has been strongly suggested that driver fatigue may have been a fundamental cause in the lapse in concentration from the man at the wheel.
However, in saying that this is but one high profile example, the commission points out that long working hours have been responsible for many a human tragedy and endangered many a life in the city, although most of its symptoms are only visible behind closed doors and not on display for the public eye.
It also quotes from a consultation report done by the Commission on Poverty, which points out that 90 per cent of people surveyed support a universal retirement protection scheme.
The committee report adds that they also support a scheme that is not encumbered by means testing.
In addition, the Catholic Labour Commission takes exception to Lam’s suggestion of importing foreign labour to solve the staff shortage in rehabilitation services and the care of the city’s aging population.
It maintains that the basic cause of the labour shortage in the relevant institutions has more to do with low wages and long working hours.
As the assistant administrator of the Caritas Jockey Club Lai King Rehabilitation Centre in Kwai Chung told the Sunday Examiner, “Finding staff is difficult. Living off government subventions means that salaries are not that high and the work can be demanding, as people are often slow to respond. You really need to want to work here, or have a vocation.”
The commission does not believe that the importation of foreign labour would be a solution to this problem and says there are more fundamental issues that need to be addressed by the government first.
It points out in its statement that more people, local women and residents from the minority non-Chinese population of Hong Kong should be encouraged to work in these fields.
The Labour Commission expresses a confidence that with fair workplace treatment, family friendly employment policies and adequate occupational safety measures the city already has resources that could be tapped and could go a long way towards solving staff shortages in its caring institutions.
In the face of what the commission calls fundamental problems, Lam’s proposed cut in transport costs is more like offering a walking stick to help people carry their heavy burdens rather than lightening the load.

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