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Friday, August 19, 2016, 00:15

Unionist plans to back standard working hours

By Shadow Li
Unionist plans to back standard working hours

Kwok Wai-keung, a lawmaker from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said the union will continue to strive for 44-hour-per-week standard working hours. (Edmond Tang / China Daily)

HONG KONG - Rising from the grassroots, lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) is a poster boy for the upward social mobility of young people. He is seeking a second term in the city’s legislature in the Hong Kong Island constituency.

The career path of the 38-year-old social worker-turned-lawmaker surprised Kwok himself. He had never expected he would be a lawmaker when he graduated from college with a degree in social work and considerable debt to pay off.

Kwok consoled young people who were unsure of their future, urging them not to worry too much. He himself wasn’t sure about being a lawmaker until almost 10 years ago when he was elected as a district councilor following the encouragement of his first employer “Sister Han”, the veteran unionist and political star Chan Yuen-han.

The meager salary and debts from his college studies didn’t stop Kwok from engaging in community work for years. That experience has paid off well in his next nine-year district councilor’s life since 2007. It also landed him in the Legislative Council in 2012.

Kwok recently became a father. He is struggling to come up with a down payment for an apartment, although he is earning much more than an average Hong Kong resident as both lawmaker and district councilor.

Hong Kong should diversify its industrial structure to create more opportunities for the upward social mobility of young people, Kwok contended. The value of degrees and diplomas has decreased. However, they are still much needed to help people obtain a better future, Kwok said. But without a diversified industrial structure, young people had to fall back on their own abilities, Kwok added.

As a diligent lawmaker, it is almost guaranteed that Kwok has to work overtime and lead an irregular life. Despite that, the young unionist thinks Hong Kong cannot stand still when it comes to legislating on standard working hours.

Forty-four hours per week standard working hours have been on the union’s agenda for years. But in the past legislative term, representatives from the labor sector withdrew from the Standard Working Hours Committee as they believed the committee was set on a different path.

The tug-of-war between employees and employers pushed the issue into the media spotlight for months.

“In fact, there is a misunderstanding among the employers. They believe standard working hours equals maximum working hours and will impair the productivity of employees. That is absolutely wrong,” Kwok said.

Apart from standard working hours, Hong Kong seemed to fall behind its neighbors and competitors in terms of labor rights and family-friendly policies, Kwok stressed.

He added that Hong Kong is still debating the necessity of such policies while other places have already made them established practices.

“The government seemed lukewarm to legislation on standard working hours, but it can’t deny the fact that Hong Kong has topped the world’s ranking on (excessive) working hours,” said Kwok.

Discussing the union’s achievements in the past four years, Kwok said he was glad to see the introduction of paternity leave in 2015. This allows men to have three-day paid leave to take care of their wives who have given birth.

This took the union 10 years to fight for, Kwok said, adding that they will continue to strive for standard working hours with the same perseverance.

First, extensive education in the community to raise public awareness is a must. And the next step will be to introduce standard working hours in government organizations and extend it to the private sector when the practice takes hold, Kwok said.

Stop filibustering

Seeing it as his unfinished mission, Kwok said the filibustering in the Legislative Council had deprived society of a thorough discussion on the issue.

Filibusters have delayed bills and legislation, and have almost doubled the workload for the council in the last term. A mechanism to cut filibustering is desperately needed as it has snowballed, Kwok said. The designated mechanism should be activated once the filibustering is getting out of control, Kwok added.

Kwok was elected as a lawmaker by voters from the labor functional constituency in 2012. Now he is facing direct election in Hong Kong Island constituency, where seats were cut from seven to six for the next term.

Various polls have put him in the risky sixth position. Brushing off worries and uncertainties, Kwok said the result of polls means he needs to work harder on community-based issues to reinforce voters’ support.

Other candidates who will run in the Hong Kong Island constituency are: Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Cheung Kwok-kwan, Hui Chi-fung, Paul Zimmerman, Ricky Wong Wai-kay, Tanya Chan Suk-chong, Gary Wong Chi-him, Shum Chee-chiu, Law Kwun-chung, Cheng Kam-mun, Christopher Lau Gar-hung, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, Chui Chi-kin, Chim Pui-chung and Chung Yuen-wun.

stushadow@chinadailyhk.com

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