Gift for blue-collar workers coming on Buddha’s Birthday

Next year’s Buddha’s Birthday will be the first new statutory holiday to be introduced if the government gets the green light to increase the number of holidays, says Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.

The government has proposed to amend the Employment Ordinance to increase progressively the number of statutory holidays to 17, from 12, by five increments at two-year intervals.

This will make statutory holidays on par with banking holidays other than Sundays. If the bill is passed, the first additional statutory holiday will be Buddha’s Birthday on May 8 next year. The increase will be completed by 2030.

The other four to be added are the first weekday after Christmas Day, Easter Monday, Good Friday and the day following Good Friday.

But unions slammed the progress as too slow, saying the alignment should be completed in three years.

Yesterday’s Buddha’s Birthday was a public holiday, meaning many blue-collar workers had to work.

“The [Legislative Council] is now reviewing the Employment [Amendment] Bill 2021,” Cheung said.

“More than a million workers in Hong Kong will benefit from the bill. It’s an important milestone in the improvement of workers’ rights . . . under the current government’s people-oriented policy.”

But the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions yesterday protested outside the government complex at Admiralty, saying the progress of increasing statutory holidays is too slow.

The union submitted a petition letter to a representative of the Labour and Welfare Bureau, urging the government to cancel Hong Kong’s current “unfair” holiday system as soon as possible.

Union chairman Lam Chun-sing said around 30 percent of workers only have 12 statutory holidays every year and most of them are in grassroots jobs.

“They work long hours and are paid less than others and they even have fewer holidays than others. We believe the current holiday system is very unfair,” he said.

“Why would there be two holiday systems in one city in the first place?”

The government has estimated that the additional cost for all employers for each statutory holiday to be introduced is HK$600 million, Lam said.

But Lam said the figure is exaggerated because some companies do not need to hire extra staff for the holiday so that means they have no extra cost.

Lam added the labor sector has been calling for the increase for more than 10 years and employers should be mentally prepared for the bill’s passing.

He said the increase is one of the 10 initiatives to benefit livelihoods proposed by the government last year, “meaning it is aware of its importance.”

Lam added: “If the government agrees that increasing the statutory holidays is very important and could ease the longstanding inequities in Hong Kong, why would they need 10 years to push it?” Lam said.

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