The death of a Star Ferry captain during a shift on Wednesday has drawn attention to the firm’s 25-day work roster. However, workers wished to keep the arrangement – which affords them five days off after working for 25 consecutive days – according to the Star Ferry.

Star Ferry
Hong Kong’s Star Ferry. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

A 47-year-old Star Ferry captain, surnamed Chung, was found collapsed on a vessel at around 4 a.m. on Wednesday. Despite resuscitation attempts at Queen Elizabeth Hospital he later died. 

When Chung’s bereaved family gathered to mourn his death at Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier on Thursday, local media reported that his sister-in-law spoke about the 30-day duty cycle of Star Ferry captains.

“ [Captains work] 10 days of day shifts, 10 days of night shifts, five days of overnight shifts, then finally five days of holiday, with no rest days in between [the first 25 days],” the sister-in-law told HK01. Chung was found unconscious on his 23rd consecutive work shift, she said.

The family also said that Chung had been looking exhausted.

Fay Siu, Chief Executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims (ARIAV), said on a Commercial Radio programme on Thursday that she had been shocked to learn about the Star Ferry’s shift arrangement.

Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims (ARIAV) Siu Sin-man
Fay Siu (left), Chief Executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims (ARIAV), on April 28, 2023. Photo: ARIAV.

Siu said that considering the transit time and the biological adjustment of working different shifts, the roster system could have a huge impact on the quality of ferry workers’ downtime. The labour rights activist said unless an urgent event occurred, she could not think of a reasonable rationale behind the long duty cycle.

She urged Star Ferry to publicly explain the current roster arrangement.

Greater flexibility to travel

In an emailed response to HKFP, the Star Ferry said the company and all colleagues were deeply saddened by the sudden passing of an employee while on duty, adding that it would fully cooperate with the investigation, and would make every effort to improve arrangements.

The ferry company also said the crew’s roster system had been in use for a long time, with the vast majority of employees working 8-hour shifts and receiving 16 hours of rest, and at least 12 hours of rest provided on rotation days on average.

“The 5-day consecutive leave period is offered to give employees greater flexibility to travel or visit their family living abroad,” the Star Ferry said.

The ferry service provider added that the current system has received support from employees, many of whom had requested that it be maintained.

The chairperson of the Small Craft Workers Union also said on an RTHK radio programme on Wednesday that most Star Ferry workers preferred to keep the current duty timetable.

Golden week mainland tourists mainlanders tsim sha tsui
Tourists on Star Ferry Pier on May 2, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He said the Star Ferry had consulted its employees before about whether the company should follow the roster arrangement of other ferry service providers. The majority of ferry workers told the company they had enough rest time under current arrangements, and five straight days of holiday every month allowed them to go on short trips easily.

Some ferry staff had even called the union to express concern about the Star Ferry changing its roster policy after the captain’s death, the union’s chairperson said. 

Acknowledging the general support of the current roster system by the ferry workers, Siu suggested the ferry company to allow employees to choose the roster timetable they preferred.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.