More than 5,000 workers from all levels came onto the streets of Hong Kong on May 1, Labour Day, to demand among much else, fair working hours and a universal pension scheme while unions urged the government to implement related policies immediately, on top of accusing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying of ‘continuously betraying’ workers.
Protesters also demanded abolition of the ‘offsetting system’ used as part of the Mandatory Provident Fund – Hong Kong’s retirement savings scheme – that allows employers to use their portion of MPF contributions to any worker’s retirement fund to offset severance and long-service payments for the employee.
A 24-member Standard Working Hours Committee launched a second public consultation on worker issues, said to last into July, but the six members on the body that represent workers have been boycotting meetings, saying the committee had only been focusing on contractual working hours instead of implementing a 44-hour standard working week and an overtime hourly rate 1.5 times the standard rate.
Rit Gurung, a Nepalese construction worker, was quoted in the media saying many working in that industry were forced to work 10 to 12 hours a day with an overtime rate no higher than 1.3 times the normal rate.
Overseas domestic helpers as usual were out in strength, demanding inclusion in the city’s minimum wage system and the choice not to live with their employers but seemed to have given up on demands for their stay in Hong Kong to count towards the seven year residence statute for applicability to become permanent residents.
The two main unions organised their own marches – which immediately tells of this ongoing split between the Federation of Trade Unions – which said about 2,900 people joined its demonstration – and the Confederation of Trade Unions, which estimated the number of its marchers at around 2,500. Several other groups staged their marches. There was a lively protest by journalists, activists and politicians outside the Ming Pao Industrial Centre concerned over the sacking of a well respected editor Keung Kwok-yuen,
In Macau about 500 workers rallied at Tap Seac Square demanding 90 days of paid maternity leave and improvements to the overseas domestic helper employment system.
In Taiwan’s Taipei labour unions marched calling on the government to reduce working hours and increase wages. In recent times the Taiwanese have expressed concern that outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou’s push for closer economic ties with China has threatened the ordinary working men and women with wages stagnating and full-time jobs harder to find as the export-led economy has slowed. Taiwanese firms are outsourcing to mainland China and a popular views holds that consortiums are exploiting the workforce.
Tens of thousands of South Koreans took part in Sunday’s May Day protests to criticise labour reforms pushed by the government and to call for a higher minimum wage, also saying.
the labour reform bill, pushed by President Park Geun-Hye and her conservative Saenuri Party, is making it easier for companies to lay off workers.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions stated that about 30,000 unionised workers from local companies took part in the rallies. Seoul was only one among 15 cities in South Korea where some 80,000 workers belonging to the KTCU and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) joined the May Day rallies, the Korea Herald reported.
Labour Day in China was simply a May Day holiday with Xinhua heralding a picture of a river scene from Chongqing titled: “A boat sails on the Daning River at the scenic area of ‘Small Three Gorges’ in Wushan County, southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality, during the May Day holidays on May 1, 2016.” Demonstrations went unreported in more widely read press.
In Manila, about 2,000 left-wing protesters scuffled with police equipped with shields and water cannon to try to prevent the flag-wavers getting near the U.S. Embassy, with 20 protesters injured. There were scenes of violence as some protesters managed to break through the police cordon as live television broadcasts showed. Police made no arrests and the protesters dispersed after about two hours.
Further May Day rallies were held across the Philippines, adding to the street energy as campaigning was entering the final week ahead of the May 9 presidential election.
On that note Filipino workers in Hong Kong, besides holding their own demonstrations for worker’s rights were lining up to cast their overseas vote with very good turnout reported.
More than 25,000 workers from around the Indonesian capital of Jakarta rallied May 1 afternoon, with many wearing red shirts and carrying red flags and placards with various messages such as ‘Stop dismissing workers’, ‘Reject the free market’, and ‘Raise the minimum wage.’ There were
trucks fitted with loudspeakers blaring these and like messages, as the procession moved towards the presidential palace.
In Malaysia, only around 100 people gathered together demanding an increase in the monthly minimum wage from the current (local dollars) $230 to $380. Many participants held up satirical sketches of Prime Minister Najib Razak alluding to the big corruption scandal, where he stands accused of diverting some $681 million from the state investment fund into his private bank account.
Cambodian unionists in Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium made demands on a number of labour issues, including calling for better working conditions and improved salaries.
In Bangladesh, around 2,000 garment workers, labour activists and union leaders joined a rally in Dhaka. Protesters called for the minimum wage to be raised and for safer working conditions. They also urged the government to make April 24 each year a national holiday in commemoration of the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex, which led to the deaths of more than 1,130 workers.
In India, one particular Labour Day march was outstanding, staged in the central city of Bhopal in
the capital of Madhya Pradesh state as activists from the Communist Party of India led a rally of about 500 shouting slogans and carrying red flags. Bhopal residents are still fighting for compensation and recognition after the chemical plant disaster there so many years ago.
In the south central Indian metropolis of Bangalore, crowds of people also marched wearing red and with red flags, bearing the white hammer and sickle symbol of Communism, long time active force on the streets of India. Labour leaders called for stronger protections for workers and better labour rights.
Pressenza and News Agencies
For more news on happenings in Hong Kong on May 1, 2016 see Huck