Cuts to annual leave and sent to chop down trees: Hong Kong marine workers decry treatment by management

Staff at Hong Kong’s Marine Department on Tuesday accused the management of mistreating them, saying officials had tried to cut their annual leave and forced them to cut down trees on outlying islands.

About 15 members of the city’s marine workers’ union, part of the larger Confederation of Trade Unions, staged a protest outside the department’s offices in Central on Tuesday, demanding a meeting with the management.

Deputy Director of Marine Wong Sai-fat came out to accept a petition letter and promised to schedule a meeting with staff, but did not respond to their demands.

“Shame on the Marine Department! Open the door and meet us now!” the workers chanted before Wong emerged.

The staff had three demands. They said many workers were required to fill the more senior roles of their superiors when the latter were on leave, but differences in working hours caused problems.

For example, they said meal breaks were not calculated as part of the working hours of a works supervisor, but such periods were included in the day of an assistant inspector, a more senior role.

In the past the department had allowed staff to take this meal break benefit when acting in a more senior role, they said.

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“But now the department is taking that back,” said marine union chairman Chan Yiu-kwok. “The management said those who had enjoyed the meal break benefit while in acting roles over the past five years needed to have the number of hours they took deducted from their paid leave.”

Chan said he knew of at least 15 people who needed to have leave deducted. Each would see about five days’ holiday taken away.

Another bone of contention was a claim by staff that they had been required to repair and maintain beacons on about 10 outlying islands around Hong Kong.

They said they usually needed to walk for 15 to 20 minutes to reach the beacons after arriving on the islands. About two years ago, the department stopped hiring contractors to clear trees and weeds blocking routes to the beacons.

Armed with simple equipment such as saws, department staff had been forced to cut down trees and clear weeds from pathways, they said.

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Chan expressed fears that workers could be violating laws by cutting down trees. He said the management had promised the union in a meeting last year that staff would no longer have to…

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