Workers at Hong Kong’s beleaguered public hospitals have demanded a pay rise, adding that they may go on strike if the Hospital Authority comes up short.
Ng Wai-ling, who chairs the Hospital Authority Supporting Grades Staff Association, said that support staff should get a pay rise of at least 12 per cent, no matter if they are new or old hires. Ng and other staff representatives were meeting with the authority on Tuesday afternoon.
Ng said that public hospital support staff will consider going on strike if the negotiations fail, but stressed that it was a last resort and they would minimise any effect on the public.
Hong Kong’s public hospitals have been under strain during peak flu season, with many facilities overcrowded and understaffed.
Last month, the Hospital Authority – which employs about 25,000 support workers at various levels – proposed that new hires for Grade Three support staff should get nine to 14 per cent more pay. Existing workers would get a raise of at least 2.5 per cent.
However, according to an internal survey of 10,800 people by the Hong Kong Medical and Health Care Staff General Union, over 75 per cent of respondents opposed the proposal. Ninety-two per cent said that new and old hires should receive raises together.
Vice-chairperson of the union Fung Kuen-kwok said the proposal “discriminates” against existing staff and has sunk morale.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Tuesday that the government will speed up its salary review for hospital staff. The review would first address new recruits before addressing existing staff.
“The Hospital Authority has already hired a consultancy to see how to improve salary levels… Support staff have a very important job and I understand that they are working hard,” Chan said.
Chan said she was aware of the workers’ complaints: “I hope they can focus on the greater good and reach a consensus.”
The Hospital Authority has also been criticised for excessive bureaucracy and factionalism. Chan said there will be a report evaluating the workplace culture of public hospitals, which is expected to be completed this year.
Conflict of interest
Chan also said on a radio programme on Tuesday that she would quit her role as “honorary advisor” of Kwai Tsing Safe Community and Healthy City Association. The charity was recently awarded a HK$280 million contract to run a District Health Centre for three years.
Chan said she played no role in the charity’s operation or the tendering process, but would resign to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“I will reassess what groups that I am an honorary advisor to… This is the first case, and I don’t know what other groups will want to submit tenders in the future,” she said.
Update 20:15: Negotiations have broken down between the hospital staff representatives and the Hospital Authority. Staff representatives have organised a silent sit-in protest at the Hospital Authority Building on Thursday, and said they expect 200 to 300 off-duty workers to attend.