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Hong Kong


Workers' Struggle


Workers fight and win the struggle against the Illegal Lockout by Hotel Vaishali, Kathmandu

On May 20 a group of armed police attacked 120 workers of the Vaishali Hotel in Kathmandu. These workers had been picketing in front of the Hotel since May 19th against hotel management's illegal lockout and suppression of union activity.

About nineteen workers were seriously injured, including several Central Committee members of the Hotel Workers' Union. The police harassed women workers and looted valuables, such as gold necklaces and wristwatches. The police also arrested one of the main protestors, Gyanu Adhikari, badly torturing him and keeping him illegally in custody.

In early May, the workers of Hotel Vaishali applied for registration of a trade union under the Trade Union Act of 1992. This angered the management, who then started to harass union members. The principal leader of the union, Damodar Paudel, was dismissed without any valid grounds nor legal process. The Nepal Independent Hotel Workers' Union (NIHWU-GEFONT) questioned the hotel management and asked for the reinstatement of the dismissed union leader and recognition of union activity. Hotel management instead locked out workers illegally. The management's act is in clear violation of Nepalese labour law, compelling all 120 of the hotel's workers to stage a Dharna (petition) in front of the Hotel since 19th May.

Instead of supporting the workers' struggle to fight for their rights, the Ministry of Labour took no action. At the end police not only violently attacked the workers; they also continually interfered in the dispute at management's behest. Nearly all workers lost their jobs and there was threat of mass dismissals.

In response to the appeal from GEFONT , the CAW secretariat and the network groups sent protest letters to the government and management condemning the management's illegal act and police violence against the workers, demanding:

  • that dismissed workers be reinstated
  • the release of arrested workers without condition and compensation for lost property
  • the immediate end of the illegal lockout
  • respect for the Trade Union Act and recognition of union activities
Though the management used police force, workers in the hotel perserved in their fight. Workers from other sectors as well as local people supported the workers in various ways. The prompt international solidarity encouraged the struggling workers in the picket line and inspired them to continue their fight until victory. Meanwhile, the numerous protest letters demoralized hotel management and pushed them to the bargaining table with union representatives.

Finally, the case was settled through bilateral negotiation. The lockout ended, the management paid all remuneration for the strike period and the arrested union activists were released without charge. The case of the dismissed worker was settled through legal procedure. The Management now recognizes the union and agreeds to respect its activities. All workers are now back at work, and morale is high.

This workers' victory was only possible with both national and international support to the struggle and strong solidarity among the working class. We hope this show of solidarity will continue in the days to come.

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Demand for Protection of Women's Right to Employment

The Secretary of Treasury, Donald Tsang, has set up a special Committee to tackle unemployment issues in Hong Kong. However, this committee does not have any representatives from grassroots workers and women workers.

On June 3, 1998, representatives from the Coalition Concerning Women's Employment Rights, which represents several women organizations in Hong Kong, organized a protest action outside the government office while the Special Committee met to discuss government policies. The Coalition's major concerns are the unemployed grassroots women workers, particularly the middle age, the lowly educated and those at the lowest sectors of society. They have been contributing to the economic development of Hong Kong since the 60s and the 70s, when the manufacturing sector was growing rapidly. All of them worked as workers in manufacturing factories.

With economic restructuring and the recent economic downturn of the Hong Kong economy, the situation of these women workers is deteriorating rapidly. They face age and sex discrimination when they look for jobs. Since all of them have not even finished their primary education, they have further difficulties in finding jobs. Even if they find part-time, low paid jobs like cleaning, the working conditions are extremely poor. Recently, there are more migrant and illegal migrant women from Mainland China coming into Hong Kong, and they become the cheapest labour force in the low paid job market.

The Coalition Concerning Women's Employment Rights is strongly demanding the Hong Kong government adopt the following policy changes:

  1. Cancel the "4118 regulation"" (Note 1) that stipulates different protection for part-time workers. Irrespective of the workers' part-time or full-time status, they should enjoy the same workers' protection.
  2. Legislate law to stop age discrimination in order to protect the right of middle aged women to work.
  3. Set a minimum wage for all workers so that employers cannot hire migrant or illegal workers at lower wage levels. This also ensures the workers receive reasonable wages.
  4. Evaluate and improve the Government Retraining Scheme for workers.
To ensure the unemployed can subsist on the minimum living standard, we demand the government:
  1. Sets up a short-term unemployment assistance fund.
  2. Cancels the compulsory provident fund scheme, and sets up a better and more long term unemployment and retirement protection scheme as follows:
    • the provident fund scheme should be paid by the employer, employee and the government
    • any one who is unemployed or retired can be supported out of the above provident fund.
(Note 1: The 4118 regulation stipulates that part-time workers who have worked continuously for eighteen hours each week for a consecutive four weeks with the same employer can have the same rights and protection as full-time workers.)

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Every year on May 10th, a rally is organized in memory of the victims of the Kader Fire in Thailand. This year, once again, the rally was organized by many labour groups & related NGOs in Bangkok, who gathered together to commemorate the deaths of women workers of the Kader factory. The factory manufactured toys, including Barbie dolls.

The people marched from Lumpini Park in downtown Bangkok to the Queen Sirikit Convention Center under a hot blazing sun. Along the way, women worker representatives, riding in front of the caravan, told their stories through loudspeakers, made their demands and publicized the struggles of Thai workers and their harsh and often dangerous working conditions.

When the caravan reached the posh government-built center, the workers demanded they be allowed to enter. This was where the much publicized government initiated "Health & Safety Week" convention was to be held. Ironically, while government officials and ministers were meeting inside the building about health and safety issues in the workplace, workers were protesting about the government and employers' lack of concern for workers' health and safety!

Speeches by different labour groups' representatives including the Labour Congress of Thailand, Women Unity Group (from CAW's network), Campaigning Committee for Health & Safety of Workers as well as AMRC - on behalf of Hong Kong based regional NGOs, were made during the rally. This was in support of Thai workers' call to designate May 10th, the anniversary of the Kader Fire, as National Safety Day.

The Campaign Committee of the OHS & other NGOs in Thailand have started collecting signatures to urge the government to set up an independent organization on health and safety in workplace. Their aim is to have 50,000 signatures calling for the transfer of the management of the workers' compensation fund to this new, independent organization.

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Union office demolished!

Workers attacked and beaten by police!

The All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) is a large national level federation with almost 160 trade unions, including the Railway Workers Union and other public & private sectors' unions. The Federation is struggling hard to organize workers to fight against injustice and exploitation.

The Federation opposes privatization and other anti-worker policies by the government. Recently, the Federation's General Secretary Ch. Gulzar Ahmed participated in the Global March against Child Labor and in his speech criticized the government's policies that result in mass unemployment and poverty, thus forcing thousands of children prematurely into the work force.

Then, on April 16, 1998, district management backed by heavy police force demolished the All Pakistan Trade Union Office in Lahore without any warning. Police aggressively attacked and beat workers. Police then arrested APTUF General Secretary Ch. Gulzar Ahmed, Deputy General Secretary Lahore division Mohd Ilyas and five other activists. Police also arrested WWO's executive member Ms. Azra Shahid.

The Federation office was the center for different workers' activities. Workers organized their gatherings and meetings at the office. It was also the trade union educational center. Adult literacy classes for women workers were held at the center. Although the destruction of the office has badly affected these activities as well as the workers movement, Pakistani workers still have not lost their courage and fighting spirit.

The struggle continues:

  • April 17, 1998: The Federation organized a demonstration to pressure the government to release its General Secretary Gulzar Ahmed Choudhary and other activists. All factory workers in the Gulberg industrial area went on a two hour symbolic strike and partook in a protest march demanding the release of trade union leaders and the rebuilding of the Federation office.
  • April 18, 1998: Workers demonstrated in front of the Assembly House, resulting in the release of the Federation's General Secretary and all other union activists.
The workers continued their struggle to further pressure their government to:
  • Apologize to the Federation for this injustice.
  • Compensate the Federation for destroying the office, equipment and accessories.
  • Rebuild the Federation office.
  • April 20, 1998: The Federation called a meeting among affiliated trade union representatives to discuss the situation and plan further strategies, as the government refused to resolve the office destruction and compensation issues.
  • April 23 to 25, 1998: All the Federation's affiliated unions, including the WWO, organized protest rallies in different parts of the country and demanded the government rebuild the office, offer compensation and take action against the perpetrators.
  • April 28, 1998: The Federation organized mass demonstrations in different industrial cities. In Lahore the protest was held in front of the assembly hall.
  • May 1, 1998: The WWO celebrated May 1, 1998 as a protest day with the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation and eight national trade union centers. Workers' organizations demanded the government stop privatization, retrenchment, and high inflation. They also demanded an increase in wages, repeal of all discriminatory laws against women, and legislation for the protection of agricultural and informal sector workers, in addition to rebuilding the federation office.
  • May 5, 1998: The Federation observed a nationwide two-hour symbolic protest against privatization, high inflation, and huge unemployment, as well as the destruction of its office. This industrial action was taken up jointly with other trade union federations under the umbrella of the Pakistan Workers Confederation. It was quite a successful strike, with both public and private sectors taking part.
  • May 12-14, 1998: Federation leaders met with the Labor Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Deputy Commissioner and other Punjabi government officials to discuss the destruction of their office.
  • May 16, 1998: Workers demonstrated in industrial areas in different cities. In Lahore workers held a rally before the Chief Minister Secretariat for acceptance of the workers' demands.
  • May 23,1998: Workers held a demonstration at the Governor's House, chanting slogans against the government's anti-workers' policies. Federation leaders presented the workers' demands to the Governor.
Despite workers' strong agitation and pressure on the government regarding the Federation's office, government is not showing any interest to resolve this matter. Authorities are making different excuses; for example, claiming the office was built on government land. The Federation office has been located at the Gulberg industrial area since 1968. Incredibly, after 30 years the government claims the office site is illegal, and without any warning demolished the office and arrested its workers. Government and employers are threatening the workers and their family members for participating in protests. This is a direct attack on workers and their basic rights.

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Asian Women Workers Newsletter