ExCo member aims to influence govt’s policies in the early stages
Wong Kwok-kin, a legislator from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) and newly appointed member of the Executive Council (ExCo), aims to influence the government in the early stages of public policy formulation and will continue to fight for the rights of workers.
Despite being the lone prolabor voice in the cabinet of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, he vowed to continue battling for labor benefits, including scrapping the offse tting mechanism of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) scheme and legislating standard working hours.
Wong was appointed an ExCo member to succeed F TU honorar y president Cheng Yiu-tong , who had served in the cabinet for 15 years. “Chief Executive Carrie Lam had asked the FTU to nominate a replacement and I was recommended to take his place,” he told China Daily in an interview.
“A total of seven (pro-establishment) lawmakers are doubling up as ExCo members. The CE has not said if she wants us to secure votes in the Legislative Council (LegCo). It’s a reasonable assumption but, in practice, it’s not easy because political parties will not support policies and bills that are harmful to them even though they are represented in ExCo.
“For example, business-oriented parties will not support cancellation of the offsetting mechanism and will oppose standard working hours. By the same token, pro-labor parties will not back policies that are detrimental to labor rights,” Wong points out.
As to whether ExCo members have a duty to sell government policies, Wong says the CE has not told them to do so.
“However, when we were sworn in as ExCo members, we pledged to comply with the confidentiality and collective responsibility rules. That means once ExCo reaches a decision, we shall not speak against it openly but we can remain silent,” he explains.
Asked what he would do if the FTU does not back a certain policy, Wong says he would either seek party exemption not to vote the same way as other FTU lawmakers in the LegCo or abstain from voting. “It’s easier to disappear and be unnoticed,” he says in jest.
According to Wong , the main reason for his joining Lam’s cabinet is to try to influ- ence policy formulation at an early stage. “The biggest advantage is we can communicate more effectively with the government during the ‘fermentation’ stage, telling them if a policy is viable, needs fine-tuning or is totally unacceptable (to the FTU) before it takes shape.”
In the last days of the previous administration, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and the ExCo had approved the proposal to cancel the MPF offsetting mechanism in line with his election pledge and the plan outlined in his 2017 Policy Address.
However, Wong says the labor side does not accept that plan although it gets rid of offsetting once and for all. The biggest stumbling block is that the severance pay and long-service payment is lowered from two-thirds to half of one’s final monthly salary.
“This is a very big change and a recession of labor rights that we, as unionists, find it hard to accept. If we had accepted this, history would say the F TU had compromised labor rights.
“Labor would have agreed immediately if the calculation was based on two-thirds of an employee’s final salary. The business sector wants the offset mechanism forever and it’s up to the government to negotiate with them. The previous government had offered HK$7.9 billion to ‘subsidize’ the employers. The new government may need to spend more. I’m happy that new CE Carrie Lam has said the government has the financial strength to do more and resolve the matter.”
On working hours, Wong says the proposal for having “working hours according to contracts” is totally out of the question. “We totally object to this because this is not standard working hours and would all but ‘ legalize’ long working hours because many employees do not have the bargaining power against employers.
“Our demand is very clear. We want a law that defines standard working hours as eight hours daily or 44 hours weekly, while compensation for overtime work is 1.5 times the normal pay,” he asserts.
Wong has high hopes on new Secretar y for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong. Though Wong is not too familiar with Law, they had briefly served on the Commission on Strategic Development.
“His ideas on welfare and poverty alleviation are close to those of the grassroots and I’m confident that the policies he formulates are not inclined to the business sector,” says Wong.
Now, with a new chief executive, they (‘pan-democrats’) are trying new ways to cooperate with Lam instead of confronting her.”
Executive Councilor Wong Kwok-kin stresses that FTU members, as unionists, find it hard to accept what he calls a recession of labor rights, and will continue to strive for the overall benefits and welfare of workers in Hong Kong.