Free Trade Unionism in Jeopardy in Hong Kong


Press Release

Brussels, December 16, 2002 (ICFTU OnLine): In a new report on Hong Kong, produced to coincide with the 16-18 December WTO review of their trade policy, the ICFTU has vehemently criticised draft legislation which if passed would jeopardise the very existence of independent trade unions. With only 5 of the 8 ILO core conventions ratified, other areas of grave concern include "widespread" discrimination against migrant workers and an almost total lack of collective bargaining.

While both of the core ILO conventions protecting trade union rights apply to Hong Kong, according to a new ICFTU report the Hong Kong Government persistently refuses to follow the recommendations of the ILO Committee for Freedom of Association.

There are no rights to and hence no institutional framework for union recognition and collective bargaining. Collective agreements cover fewer than one per cent of workers and even these are not legally binding. In practical terms, this means that trade unions are often forced to serve mainly as pressure groups and organisers or advisers of workers. Even worse is the public sector where there is no collective bargaining whatsoever and as demonstrated by recent civil service reforms, the government is not averse to acting unilaterally.

Yet even this serious lacuna pales in comparison to the probable ramifications of recent draft legislation on article 23 of the Basic Law. If passed, the legislation would endanger the existence of independent trade union organisations in Hong Kong and their rights to freely associate with unions in mainland China. Under the new law, the central Chinese government would have the right to ban any Hong Kong organisation affiliated to a mainland organisation deemed to be a threat to national security.

"Given that independent trade unions in the mainland are banned and classified as threats to security, this legislative proposal is a direct attack on the independent trade union movement in Hong Kong. If passed, it will be a giant retrograde step in terms of workers' rights," explained Collin Harker, author of the report.

Discrimination on grounds of race or national origin, particularly against the very large number of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, is also serious problem. There are an estimated 240,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, the majority from Indonesia and the Philippines, 60 per cent of whom are reported to receive less than the minimum wage of HK$ 3670, often a great deal less. These workers are subject to deportation if they lose their employment, and as a result face considerable exploitation on the part of their employers. Complaints of maltreatment of these workers are widespread.

In addition, the principle of equal pay for equal value of work has not been implemented in Hong Kong. The most recent statistics available, from the late 1990's, suggests that the gap in wages remains great, and is highest at lower pay and skill levels.

See full report

Editorial note [Original]:

This report evaluating Hong Kong's adherence to internationally-recognised core labour standards is part of a series produced by the ICFTU since the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the first Ministerial Conference of the WTO (Singapore, December 1996) and re-affirmed on November 4, 2001 in Doha, by which all WTO members stated their commitment to respect core labour standards. It is submitted to the WTO trade policy review board.

(Source: ICFTU Online, December 16, 2002)

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