The leadership of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) held an online meeting on the morning of March 16, 2020 to share their experiences in combating COVID-19 pandemic. KCTU president, Brother Kim Myeong-hwan, HKCTU Chairperson, Sister Carol Ng, and HKCTU General Secretary, Brother Lee Cheuk Yan, exchanged the workers situations in South Korea and Hong Kong, who are both facing repercussions of retrenchments such as lay-offs and unpaid leaves. Meanwhile, union leaders from both sides condemned their corresponding government’s epidemic relieve financial packages as overly employers oriented, which mainly focused on tax breaks, rent reductions, and direct subsidies to business owners, rather than allocating adequate financial support to workers who are experiencing financial loss due to the epidemic. Both unions have promised to step up their efforts and forge a stronger partnership to defend workers’ rights and livelihood during such difficult times. After the meeting, the KCTU and HKCTU published a joint statement as the first step toward a stronger alliance between the two confederations and together, we put forward a ten-point demand to both the South Korean and Hong Kong governments for stronger safeguards in workers’ rights under the COVID-19 pandemic:
Hong Kong and South Korean Workers Join Hands to Fight COVID-19 Outbreak
Joint Statement from Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Workers in all walks of lives from around the globe are encountering unprecedented challenges posted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of today, more than 130,000 confirmed cases of infection are reported, whereas the virus has already taken away 5,000 lives in matter of months. The worldwide outbreak of the pandemic, which first started in China, is not only taking a toll on the public’s health and safety, but also putting workers’ livelihoods on the line. In countries and territories that are heavily affected by the pandemic, economies plummeted as people are forced to stay at home in order to stay away from the virus. In other countries and regions, normal economic activities are also affected as global tourism plunged and the global supply chain disrupted.
On the one hand, in industries such as catering, retail, hotel, civil aviation, and manufacturing, many workers are encountering retrenchment and are forced to take unpaid leave or simply being laid off. On the other hand, in sectors that provide basic public services such as medical and healthcare, public sanitation, security guards, and public transportation, workers are exposed to considerable risk of infection as the supply of personal protective equipment is put to the limit. The pandemic has already exposed the inadequacy in social security policies in various economies, such as Hong Kong and South Korea, where workers’ rights and employment stability are always the first to suffer in times of crisis under neo-liberalism. Precarious workers such as sub-contract, dispatch, casual, self-employed, disabled, and migrant workers etc. are especially vulnerable in such situations; while the livelihood and well-being of grassroots workers are also at risk of redundancy and insufficient occupational health and safety measures.
The widespread of COVID-19 reveals the limitations of the Hong Kong and South Korean economies that focus only on capital gains and profits. Now, beyond hatred, exclusion, discrimination and inequality, we must launch new chapters to improve the shortcomings of the existing public system in legal, institutional, financial, facility, human resource, economic and social structures to strengthen the responsibilities and roles of the public sector. And take this opportunity to promote reforms in social safety nets, infectious disease prevention and public health systems, and to examine and improve working environments and occupational safety of all workers.
As workers’ rights are under serious threat in Hong Kong and South Korea amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade (HKCTU) and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) are determined to join hands to safeguard workers’ rights and workplace safety. As the fight against COVID-19 is expected to be a protracted battle with the end nowhere in sight, the independent labour movement in both places are also anticipating another prolonged struggle for labour rights. But together, we will take the opportunity to bring to the public’s attention and entice public support that push for social security reforms. In future, we will enhance our information and experience exchange in our corresponding fights against COVID-19. We, therefore, put forward the following demands to the Hong Kong and South Korean governments in order to ensure workers’ rights and occupational health and safety of workers are not to be sacrificed during and after the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Use public funds to provide emergency unemployment and living subsidies to all workers who are temporarily unemployed, underemployed, or taking unpaid leave during to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Ensure all workers suffer no loss of wages or conditions during any period of quarantine;
- Ensure all infected workers, are entitled to paid sick leave and suffer no loss of wages or conditions during any period of recovery from COVID-19;
- Ensure all workers are not subjected to any form of discrimination upon returning from any period of recovery or quarantine;
- Provide comprehensive personal protective equipment to all workers who may come into contact with infected people or anyone that has come from an infected area;
- Provide comprehensive personal protective equipment to all workers who are carrying out essential public services or working in public or highly frequented areas;
- Ensure the above measures 1 to 6 are applicable to all formal and informal workers, including sub-contract, dispatch, casual, self-employed, disabled, and migrant workers etc. without any discrimination;
- Provide transparent and up-to-date information to the public, workers, and trade unions about the number, location of infections and any other information needed for protection;
- Regular consultation with trade unions to devise appropriate measures and procedures to ensure workplace safety;
- Ensure all public spending and resources on essential public services are not to be slashed during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
March 16, 2020