HK rail unions push back as MTR announces pay freeze for employees amid year of struggles

10-Jul-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s embattled MTR Corporation on Wednesday announced a pay freeze for all employees, a move criticised as “cold-hearted” by rail unions, who said they deserved a pay increase instead for their efforts over the past year.

The freeze comes as the rail giant has been staggered by the double whammy of the anti-government protests that erupted in June of last year and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“2019/20 has been a difficult year full of challenges. The persistent [protest] movement and the Covid-19 outbreak have brought unprecedented challenges for the company and everyone,” it said in a letter to staff.

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The letter also revealed that a majority of the company’s 17,000 local staff would be given a bonus ranging from just over a month to more than a month and a half of their wages. An additional bonus of about one-third of their monthly salary would be given to those who obtained a passing performance grade, it said, a recognition of employees’ contributions during a difficult period.

On Tuesday, the rail operator warned it was facing a HK$400 million (US$51.6 million) net loss in the first half of this year, compared with a HK$5.5 billion net profit for the same period a year ago.

However, the pro-government Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions, which represents about 4,000 MTR workers across four unions, condemned its decision.

“We are very unhappy about the pay freeze. This is very unfair to us, as the MTR reaped a net profit of over HK$11 billion last year,” federation vice-chair Tam Kin-chiu said.

Including non-recurring items and property gains, the corporation’s net profit for the whole of 2019 was HK$11.93 billion, down 25.5 per cent from the year.

Tam said the unions were demanding a pay rise of at least 2.7 per cent to offset the rise in inflation.

“Taking into account last year’s inflation, we are actually suffering from a pay cut. We think that the MTR Corp is cold-hearted and has ignored our contributions during the past year. Many staff had to work very hard to resume the services disrupted by the protesters’ vandalism,” he said.

Tam said the unions were also insisting on reforms to the company’s pay system, which now fails to factor in tenure, something he said discourages staff from committing to the company.

Taking into account last year’s inflation, we are actually suffering from a pay cut. We think that the MTR Corp is cold-hearted and has ignored our contributions during the past year

Tam Kin-chiu, Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chair

“We will urge the transport minister to step in and put pressure on the MTR Corp to overhaul its pay system,” he said.

In an email to staff on Wednesday, MTR Corp CEO Jacob Kam Chak-pui appealed for understanding about the pay freeze, saying the rail firm had been hit hard by the economic repercussions of Covid-19.

“The corporation’s revenue from train services, station commercial businesses and MTR malls has been significantly reduced. With ongoing restrictions in cross-border and international travel, and the negative economic and market sentiment, our business will likely need a very long time to recover,” he said, adding the company’s top priority was to protect jobs and to ensure sustainability.

For the first six months of this year, the firm’s ridership dropped to just 637 million passengers, down 37.7 per cent from a year ago. The MTR Corp took a severe beating with the suspension of cross-border through-train services and high-speed rail from late January, while its domestic services suffered as school closures, work-from-home arrangements and social-distancing rules left many trains operating far below capacity.

The firm became a target of radical protesters last August after they accused it of bowing to pressure from Beijing and colluding with police to thwart their activities.

Protesters subsequently trashed stations and set facilities on fire, hurled petrol bombs at entrances and spray-painted graffiti on walls. Some also threw objects onto tracks, halting train operations.


Category: Hong Kong

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