ITUC OnLine – June 28, 2007(1)

Brussels, 28 June 2007 (ITUC OnLine): As hundreds of thousands of union members and other Hong Kong citizens prepare to march in the streets next Sunday 1st July, in protest at lack of democracy and workers’ rights then years after the former British colony was handed back to China, the country’s President, Mr. Hu Jintao, will be spending the night in Hong Kong, probably reflecting on whether and when his government will live up to the promise of the “one country, two systems” commitments it entered into when it negotiated the return of the territory to Chinese rule, in 1997.

Hong Kong is a place of great contrasts, home to some of the world’s richest families and largest monopolies; Hong Kong is also a place where the poor remain extremely poor, with little welfare and little protection. In ten years little has changed for the workers who continue to be denied a share in the riches of the Hong Kong economy. The central government and its pro-business allies continue to erode the bargaining power of workers and trade unions while resisting efforts to introduce labour legislation and democracy.

Working weeks of up to 60 hours and more are not unusual and yet recent 2007 figures show inequality has risen significantly in the past decade.

The number of working poor who earn half or less of the median wage has risen from 300,000 in 2007 to around 500,000 in 2007 while those working over 55 hours a week have risen from 510,000 to 830,000 in 2007.

Some 200,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong contribute 1 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP but suffer extensive rights and contract violations.

Women are the main victim of the casualization of labour and form the majority of the working poor – around one out of seven employed women workers fall below the poverty line. Migrants from neighbouring countries and mainland China continue to represent a stigmatised underclass and ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are discriminated against in terms of recruitment and promotion.

Although independent and democratic trade unions are allowed to exist in Hong Kong, unlike mainland China, and the right to strike is enshrined in legislation, various loopholes in both law and practice deny the free exercise of these rights. Harassment and discrimination against trade union members by employers are further obstacles to workers when seeking effective representation.

The anniversary of the Handover has now become synonymous with mass protests at the lack of progress towards democracy. The first march for democracy and in opposition to the proposed subversion laws saw over half a million Hong Kong people march on 1 July 2003 – almost one in ten residents. This year Hong Kong will see many thousands march again.

Please click here to see the Spotlight Interview with Lee Cheuk yan, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

To see the report “Hong Kong: Ten years on and no improvement in sight” please click here.