Over a hundred staff members at the Next Digital Group have staged a walk-out in protest of outsourcing plans.
Next Digital is the parent company of Apple Daily, Next Magazine, and other Chinese-language publications. Last month, the group announced plans to dismiss employees and rehire them as freelancers in Hong Kong, as part of a cost-cutting drive.
Next Media Trade Union (NMTU) spokesperson Lam Wai-Chung said that, under the plan, staff members will have the same workload, but a lower salary, and with no labour protections.
The 150 staff members left work for 15 minutes, dressed in black, and protested outside the group’s building on Wednesday evening during heavy rain.
A statement from the union demanded management withdraw its plans and “stop secret negotiations.”
“Time after time we have been treated by the management as merely labour supply or figures on their account of expenses; disposable when they wish to cut cost[s], outsource-able when they no longer wish to be responsible as an employer. We are truly tired of watching our colleagues go or worrying about our own jobs on a daily basis. We, as dignified staff members of this company, today have come together and spoken to stop the management from ripping our departments apart one by one.”
“If the management insists on its plans against the will of the staff members, NMTU will consult our colleagues on future actions and no form of action is ruled out at this stage. In the meantime, NMTU would like to call for public support of our ongoing petition against outsourcing.”
The union said the plan will affect 30 to 50 staff members at graphics departments.
Earlier this year, Next Digital announced losses of almost HK$394 million for the financial year ending in March. The loss is HK$70 million more than the loss reported in the preceding year, as advertising income declines.
To Yiu Ming of Journalism Educators for Press Freedom speaking at Next Media staff walkout over plan to fire some and rehire as freelancers pic.twitter.com/5HZ4Sf9MA6
— Yuen Chan (@xinwenxiaojie) July 5, 2017
Apple Daily chief Cheung Kim-hung told the newspaper that the outsourcing plan will mostly be implemented at graphics departments and there were no plans to implement it elsewhere in the company.
He said the company was inclined to halt hiring following potential resignations, and that it will try to find content providers from outside the company. He said the firm will conduct a review to see if staff members “are truly suitable” and said there will not be large lay-offs. The goal, however, was to cut staff by 30 per cent.
Regarding the low staff morale, Cheung blamed the union for not passing on the correct message and said that the management was disappointed, according to the newspaper.
A union statement on June 29 said that a head of the graphics department had reached a preliminary agreement with the management. At graphics departments for entertainment and supplement pages, only a third of staff members were chosen to join a new outsourcing company, whilst the rest would lose their jobs.
The union criticised the company for only negotiating with department heads but not frontline staff members.
The new Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the government is willing to help if the employees require assistance from the Labour Department. But he would not express his opinion as the employers and employees were still in negotiation.