A motion to enact legislation creating the right to collective bargaining was dismissed by the Legislative Council in June 2013. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr. Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, concluded that the best way to resolve labour disputes is through voluntary collective
bargaining, including preserving employees’ rights to participate in unions. This would strike a balance between employees’ rights and corporate flexibility and competitiveness.
Hong Kong’s ‘special features’
It was observed that 98 percent of the companies in Hong Kong are small and medium enterprises (“SME”), and 95 percent of companies have less than 20 employees. It was considered that enacting legislation for collective bargaining would impose undue pressure on the operation of SMEs, detrimentally impacting their competitiveness and, in turn, Hong Kong’s economy. It was noted that the Labour Department was available to mediate and facilitate resolution of disputes between employers and employees, which was a successful method of dealing with labour disputes.
Closing the door?
The Legislative Council acknowledged that the recent Hong Kong dock workers’ labour dispute had caused concern but an examination of the statistics for the last three years showed that Hong Kong has one of the lowest number of working days lost due to labour strikes globally, including those jurisdictions with collective bargaining legislation. It was further observed that enacting collective bargaining legislation was no guarantee that the parties would reach consensus, as the law would only create rules and procedures for the negotiation process. The Legislative Council took the view that this did not assist in maintaining good relations between the parties and the lack of flexibility was likely to increase hostility.
The conclusions reached by the Legislative Council appear to have closed the door on any legislation being enacted on collective bargaining rights any time soon, but it remains to be seen whether future events may prompt a re-evaluation of this position.