Face Off: Should workers strike to ask for a pay rise and more benefits?

Face Off: Should workers strike to ask for a pay rise and more benefits?

Each week, our two teenagers debate a hot topic. This week ...
Vanessa Cheung Wing-kei, 18, Hong Kong Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (Affirmative)

Striking is when a a group of employees refuses to work in protest against the employer, working conditions or level of pay, hoping that their demands will be satisfied.

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR not only protects rights like freedom of speech, freedom of protest and freedom of the press, it also upholds workers' rights. One of those is the right to go on strike.

Industrial action and strikes have made life fairer for many people through history - even some of the slaves on the plantations in the West Indies in the 1800s. The principle should be respected today.

Workers have rights as do employers, and striking is a good way to demonstrate this fact to those who seem to forget that many workplace privileges we enjoy today had to be fought for. The problem of low wages and high profits is an inevitable source of tension between workers and employers. Workers should have the right to strike to strive for equilibrium.

Secondly, striking is an effective way to successfully push for change in employment conditions. As the media report on the strikes, and hold interviews with employees and employers, the public become better informed about the issue. Media coverage may also affect people's impression of the company.

For instance, the recent 40-day strike of local port workers attracted large-scale media reports. As Hong Kong International Terminals is owned by Li Ka-shing, many netizens criticised him and his company for exploiting the workers. This must have affected his reputation, and that of his company.

This pressure on the company may have eventually led to the compromise of a 9.8 per cent pay rise.

Another good example is the strike in 2007 by steel bar benders. It ended after almost 40 days following pay increases. The workers should continue to use this effective method to fight for their own rights.


Ronald Ling Pak-ki, 20, University of Hong Kong (Negative)

While I believe that everyone ought to acknowledge and respect workers' right to strike, I do not believe it is an effective way to ask for more money and benefits.

The contract - a legally binding agreement between two parties - has been a core element behind the development of civilisation in every society. The idea of a contract applies to many aspects of life.

For instance, students are admitted to a school under a kind of contract - the school agrees to provide education while a student has to obey the rules and regulations.

Of course, most jobs come with a formal contract.

We must all uphold the importance of abiding by contracts, or else our society could not function properly.

A remuneration package should be clearly defined in a contract, and workers must agree to this, and sign the contract. A strike is a breach of contract.

Imagine this: one day, the boss finds an employee performing below par. The boss can issue a warning to the employee. But can the employer "strike" and threaten to halt the production line while asking for better working performance from the employee? I hardly think so. He should work with the employee to improve performance, or end the employee's contract.

Just as the employers should not strike to improve a situation, neither should employees.

Negotiation and conversation rather than the serious step of going on strike, are far better ways out of any conflict.

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