Two major labour groups held separate rallies on Sunday calling on the government to adopt standard working hours and implement a universal pension scheme for Hongkongers.

The Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) marched from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices on International Labour Day. It said that 2,500 people took part in the rally, a slight decrease from an estimated 3,400 in the previous year. The CTU was joined by various pan-democratic political groups, including the Democratic and Civic parties, as well as the recently-founded Demosistō.

May 1st rally
May 1st rally. Photo: Adrian Lo.

Earlier in the morning, the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions also held its annual rally, marching from Wanchai’s Southorn Playground. It estimated that 2,900 people joined the demonstration.

In its central demands this year, the CTU called for the enactment of a 44-hour standard working week – with overtime wages set at 1.5 times the usual level – and the implementation of a universal pension scheme.

The government began public consultation efforts for the two proposed policies in April and last December respectively. However, workers’ representatives at the Standard Working Hours Committee say that public consultation has only focused on stipulating working hours within contracts, instead of standardising working hours for all employees.

may 1st rally trade
May 1st rally. Photo: Elson Tong.

In its public consultation document for a universal pension scheme, the government has also expressed its “reservations” on the “regardless of rich or poor” approach – one of two proposed approaches to universal pension benefits in Hong Kong – under which every elderly person would receive HK$3,230 each month.

Demonstrators also urged the government to scrap the “offsetting mechanism” within the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF), the compulsory savings scheme currently in place in Hong Kong. The mechanism allows employers to offset their severance pay or long service payment to employees with their MPF contributions.

Lee Cheuk-yan
Lee Cheuk-yan at the 2016 May 1st rally. Photo: Adrian Lo.

Speaking at the rally, CTU General Secretary Lee Cheuk-yan criticised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for not delivering on his 2012 election campaign platform to enact pro-labour policies.

He claimed that the “freedom of living” for workers had been eroded in the same way as the freedoms of speech, assembly and the press.

May 1st rally
May 1st rally. Photo: Adrian Lo.

A large contingent of migrant rights organisations also took part in the afternoon rally. The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body demanded an increase of the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers to HK$5,000, and called for the regulation of their working hours.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.