CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A long road for labour rights

HONG KONG (SE): Members of the Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs joined thousands of people on May 1 for a Labour Day march, organised by the Federation of Trade Unions and its subsidiary unions, demanding better protection for workers.
Commission members were joined by security and cleaning workers, along with members of its various concern groups. They chanted slogans and held up banners calling for the legislation of standard working hours, universal retirement protection and a realistic wage level to help workers meet their daily needs. They also demanded better benefits and occupational safety for contract employees. 
Dorothy Lee Ching-man, the secretary general of the commission, said the annual rally gives labour rights workers a good chance to see what they can achieve in fighting for workers rights—although it might take years or decades and need many other things to fall into place to see a small improvement, like the legislation of minimum wage. 
She hopes the cross-departmental task force set up in August last year and led by the secretary for Labour and Welfare, Law Chi-kwong, to review contract work, will come up with concrete proposals to help workers.
In a statement on February 21, the commission put forward suggestions for amending the present mechanism by which the government evaluates tenders for outsourced contracts, as it relies too heavily on the lowest bid and encourages the exploitation of contract workers.
Participants in the rally gathered at Southorn Playground in Wanchai, and began their march at around 10:40am, making their way to government headquarters in Admiralty.
Other issues raised by the workers rights groups included demands for 14-weeks of paid maternity leave, as well as the scrapping the offsetting mechanism of the Mandatory Provident Fund by which employers cover long service or severance pay by tapping into workers’ pensions.
The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body also demanded an end to what they termed modern day slave practices imposed on foreign domestic workers such as the two-week visa rule, the mandatory live-in requirement and the exclusion from the statutory minimum wage. They also called on the government to set a standard for humane accommodation to be provided by employers.
Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, spokesperson of the group, said the current minimum allowable wage of $4,410 is barely enough to cope with the rising cost of living, both in Hong Kong and in their home countries. 
She said that despite workers’ demands for a monthly wage of $5,500, the government has been piecemeal with increases and has neither been transparent nor has engaged in proper consultation with foreign domestic workers.
“Domestic work is not considered work in Hong Kong, hence domestic workers here do not receive the much-deserved recognition and protection of their rights and welfare,” she lamented.
The Federation of Trade Unions said that around 5,000 people took part in the march, while police estimated the number at around 1,900, according to the South China Morning Post.

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