ExCo mem­ber aims to in­flu­ence govt’s poli­cies in the early stages

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - INTERVIEW - By JOSEPH LI in Hong Kong joseph@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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.”

JOSEPH LI / CHINA DAILY

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.

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