One of Hong Kong’s main labour union confederations has condemned Chief Executive Carrie Lam for not giving workers the day off after typhoon Mangkhut.
Traffic conditions were chaotic on Monday as roads were blocked by fallen trees, and the railway service was severely disrupted. Thousands were stuck in railway stations for hours before they were able to board a train. Commissioner for Transport Mabel Chan said it may take days to clear some roads in the North District.
At 4:45pm on Monday, the Education Bureau announced that classes will be suspended on Tuesday to allow time to clean up school facilities and for public transport to recover.
Lee Cheuk-yan, Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, slammed Lam for not announcing an official day off for workers.
Lam did not give a formal order for non-essential government staff to stay home, nor did she urge employers to call off work on Monday.
“She did not bear any responsibility. She was completely detached from the reality,” Lee said.
Lam urged employers not to deduct wages from employees if they were late to work or were unable to arrive owing to traffic issues.
Lee said her statement revealed that Lam knew some employers would penalise workers for their absence. “Why did the government not enact laws [to ban this behaviour]?”
Carol Ng, the chair of the confederation, said the union has received cases where employees were forced to go to work in the severe storm.
For instance, she said cleaning contractors hired by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Housing Department demanded their staff work under typhoon signal no.8.
Another example, she said, was that private companies may cut their staff members’ holidays and bonuses if they do not show up at work after the typhoon.
She said some security guards have been forced to stay at their posts for 24 hours without extra compensation. Some companies also threatened to fire staff if they did not show up in a short period of time after the typhoon, she said.
“The abuses appear quickly [after a typhoon] and are very diversified,” Ng said.
Mung Siu-tat, the chief executive of the confederation, said the Labour Department has a set of work arrangement guidelines applicable in storms and heavy rain, but it was not legally binding.
Mung said the government should enact laws stating that employers must draft formal agreements with employees over inclement weather arrangements. They should agree on which conditions will mean a day off for employees, and on whether non-necessary staff members can receive extra compensation if they choose to work, he said.
According to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (Cap. 241), vast power is vested in the Chief Executive to manage emergencies, such as declaring suspension of work and markets following #SuperTyphoonMangkhut. But she chose crisis mismanagement over management.
— Ray Chan (@ray_slowbeat) September 17, 2018
Lawmakers Ray Chan and Eddie Chu separately urged Carrie Lam to declare a day off for workers.
“There is chaos going to work,” Chu told HKFP. “The problem is the authorities have not stopped people going to work. They should have told businesses to take a day off, so that people from different communities can join in the clean-up effort.”
“They need two to three days to clean up, but the problem is that many people are so frustrated that they have had to go to work today.”
Additional reporting: Jennifer Creery