Hong Kong Annual Report, 1954/Chapter 3

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Hong Kong Annual Report, 1954
Chapter 3: Occupations, Wages and Labour Organization


There was steady industrial development during the year, with textiles, metal products and transport equipment (including shipyards) maintaining the lead as the principal sources of industrial employment. In the textile group, cotton spinning increased from 13 mills employing 9,881 workers to 17 mills employing 11,513. Three new mills are under construction and plans for installing additional spindles in five of the mills now operating will bring the total number of spindles to nearly 300,000. There was also a slight but steady increase in employment in factories manufacturing plastics, enamelware, rubber shoes, leather footwear, umbrellas, cigarettes, and metal blanks for the enamelware industry.

New developments during the year included the establishment of a large modern flour mill and the manufacture of aluminium hand torch cases by the cold extrusion process. In spite of considerable industrial development in Tsun Wan in the New Territories, the distribution of industrial premises remains at about one on the Island to each two in Kowloon and the New Territories, and the following figures for employment in registered and recorded factories and workshops for the past five years show the steady rate of development.

Establishments Males Females Total
1950 1,752 57,596 34,390 91,896
1951 1,961 62,192 33,015 95,207
1952 2,088 63,093 35,033 98,216
1953 2,208 65,047 35,729 100,766
1954 2,494 72,011 43,442 115,453

In addition to workers in registered and recorded factories and workshops, it is estimated that there are about 100,000 persons engaged in small unregistrable concerns, cottage industries, and as outworkers.

Approximate figures for other major sources of employment are:—

Agriculture 200,000
Cuilding Construction 200,000
Fishing 50,000
Government Service 29,000
Public Transport 25,000

Applications from employers to recruit local workmen for work overseas were slightly higher than in previous years. A total of 1,554 manual labourers went abroad during the year and contracts drawn up to International Labour Organization specifications were read and explained to all of them before embrakation. Tha majority went to Brunei, North Borneo and Sarawak for work in the oil fields or in the building trade, while others went to the phosphate mines on Nauru, Ocean Island and Christmas Island. A number of skilled textile workers went to the Argentine. Other factory workers left for Indonesia and there was a demand from Singapore for fishermen.

The following table shows the number of factories and workshops registered under the Factories and Workshops Ordinance for the past five years. Recorded establishments, i.e. premises not liable to registration but kept under observation and inspected for industrial health and safety reasons, are not included.

Premises Registered Applications under consideration Total
1950 1,244 328 1,572
1951 1,344 402 1,746
1952 1,504 347 1,851
1953 1,657 468 2,125
1954 1,812 569 2,381

Wages and Conditions of Employment[edit]


The welcome increase in the number of factories in operation not only affected the general level of employment but also served in some measure to check the tendency apparent in 1953 for wages to fall. In European type concerns such as the two major dockyards and the public utility companies wages remained unchanged and no further consolidation of allowances into basic wages was made. Wages for daily paid workers remained approximately at the 1953 level as follows:—

Skilled workmen ..... $6.00—$8.50
Semi-skilled workmen ..... $5.00—$6.50
Unskilled workmen ..... $3.00—$5.00

Government wages and salaries were reviewed by a Salaries Commission which started work in November, 1953, and issued its report in March, 1954. Government found some of the recommendations unacceptable, but a modified scheme of salary revision, based on the Commission's proposals but including a larger measure of consolidation, received the approval in principle of the Secretary of State for the Colonies by the end of the year. An advance announcement was made just before Christmas of the revised salaries and allowances for monthly paid Government workers in the unskilled, semi-skilled and artisan groups and for disciplined staff generally. No change was proposed for daily rates of pay but Government announced its intention of transferring daily paid workers to the more favourable monthly rates after a specified period of qualifying service. The new monthly salaries resulted in an increase varying from $17 to $40 per month for the lower category of workers and brought the total emoluments of Government staff into closer relationship with those of workers in public utility companies.

Working hours[edit]

The 48 hour week is standard in European concerns and in Chinese concerns run on western lines. In public utilities and some of the cotton spinning mills a system of three 8 hour shifts is used. In such concerns where a continuous supply must be maintained, rest days are arranged in rotation, so that Sunday is only one of seven rest days, but in manufacturing concerns the rest day is usually Sunday.

Some Chinese concerns, and in particular the building trade, favour a 7 day week and this is sometimes coupled with a 9 hour day. These long hours are popular with workers since wages are correspondingly greater, and the speed of working tends to be slower. Hours of work for women and young persons are regulated by law.

Cost of Living[edit]

The Government, most European concerns and some Chinese employers whose businesses are run on Western lines pay a variable cost of living allowance to their staff in addition to basic wages. Such an allowance was essential in the unsettled conditions following the war but a number of firms have since consolidated a substantial portion of the variable allowances into basic wages, retaining only a small amount as a cushion against price fluctuations. Two indices are published regularly by the Government Statistician. The Food and Fuel Index by which the variable allowances of most manual workers are calculated is based on the market price of a number of staple articles fo food and of firewood. It fell from about $15 at the beginning of the year to $13 at its close which is the lowest since early 1947 and was mainly due to the steady fall in rice prices. The Retail Price Index which reflects price variations in a wider range of commodities and services and is commonly used in assessing cost of living allowances for white collar workers and higher grades of staff stood at 125 in December, 1953, but dropped slowly after some fluctuation in the late summer and autumn to 115 at the close of 1954.

One of the changes arising from the Government's salary revision scheme announced late in 1954 was that the variable allowances for all Government monthly paid staff would in future be based on movements in the Retail Price Index and that the use of the Food and Fuel Index would be discontinued except in connexion with the allowances of daily rated staff.

Where no cost of living allowances are paid, "take home" pay, if not based on piece rates, generally tends to follow fluctuations in the cost of living, although a number of Chinese firms, particularly in the cotton spinning industry, provide free dormitory accomodation and food either free or at subsidized rates, thus protecting their workers against price variations in what is the most important item of their budget.

Labour Department[edit]

The main functions of the Labour Department consist of conciliation and mediation in industrial disputes, the inspection and registration of industrial establishments, the enforcement of health and safety precautions in such establishments and the investigation of accident reports, the protection of women and young persons employed in industry, the administration of the legislation for workmen's compensation, the protection of emigrant workers, the registration of trade unions and the administration of the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Ordinance. The Department also ensures, in so far as is possible, the observance of International Labour Organization Conventions.

The Department was represented on an interdepartmental committee on industrial development whose recommendations for a large scale reclamation scheme to the east of Kowloon Bay to provide additional factory sites, were accepted by Government. The administration of the Workmen's Compensation Ordinance which was enacted at the end of 1953 added considerably to the work both of Labour Officers and of the Labour Inspectorate, particularly during the early months before employers had become familiar with the routine procedure involved. In the field of industrial health a medical officer was temporarily posted to the Department for preliminary survey work. The movement of labour overseas continued and at the beginning of the year a Labour Officer visited British North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak to observe and discuss conditions of service for Chinese workmen.

Advice on trade union management, internal organization and accounting procedure continued to be given by a Labour Officer who also organized classes on the basic principles of trade unionism. The formal side of trade union work relating to the registration of unions and the enforcement of the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Ordinance had for some time been separated within the Department from the advisory side but in December this division was emphasized by the establishment of an independent Registry of Trade Unions Department under a Registrar, a function hitherto exercised by the Commissioner of Labour.

Industrial Relations[edit]

Labour Organization[edit]

For the first time since the enactment of the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Ordinance the number of registered trade unions showed a decrease. The total number of registered unions at the end of the year was 297, of which 223 were workers' unions, 70 were employers' associations and 4 were mixed unions of both employers and workers. Only 5 new unions were registered during the year, 3 of workers and 2 of employers, but the registration of 6 workers' unions was cancelled and one workers' union and one employers' association were dissolved. It is possible that the maximum number of registrations has been reached and there may well be a further decrease in future years. A large number of workers' unions are new operating with few members and scanty funds and some may soon cease to exist. Sectional differences, personal antagonisms and wide divergences of political views continue to divide unions of the same trade and there have been no moves towards amalgamation during the year, although amalgamation might well benefit many of the smaller unions.

Political considerations continue to form the biggest obstacle to the development of effective trade unionism in the Colony. The trade union movement is split into two main factions, one supporting the Central People's Government and the other the Chinese Nationalist Government. There are a number of nominally independent unions which are not officially affiliated to either of the two main groups but few of these keep entirely clear of one faction or the other.

The Trade Union Council (T.U.C.), which supports the Chinese Nationalist Government in Formosa, still commands the support of the largest number of unions but its member unions are weak, ineffective and do little for their worker members. Some have been guilty of abuses in the operation of their rules and in the handling of their accounts and several have been raided by the police for gambling on their premises. The T.U.C. is affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (I.C.F.T.U.) but little is done to propagate the aims of this organization and few members of the affiliated unions have any idea of the objects for which it stands.

The left wing Federation of Trade Unions (F.T.U.) faithfully follows the policies of the Central People's Government. The F.T.U. has recently gained a certain amount of support by its concentration on the provision of welfare benefits not only for the members of its affiliated unions but for non-members as well, a policy which is prompted by political motives. The affiliated unions manipulate their rules and their finances in support of the policy of the F.T.U. and while these unions are run more effectively than the T.U.C. unions, this is done in their own political interests rather than from any interest in genuine trade unionism.

While the Registration Branch continued to administer the Trade Union Ordinance until a separate Registry of Trade Unions Department was set up in December, 1954, the Trade Union Section of the Labour Department concentrated on advising trade unions on the drafting of rules, the keeping of accounts and the general administration of their affairs. Advice and education in trade union principles were, as in the past, considered the most effective means of combatting abuses and raising standards.

During the year classes in accountancy for trade unions were given both in Hong Kong and Kowloon. Each class consisted of four 1½ hour lectures and representatives of 24 unions attended. The Trade Union Section also gave lectures at a boys' college and to a Teachers' Refresher Course at a Regional Seminary.

The most important part of the trade union education programme consisted of the classes on basic trade union problems started late in 1953. At the end of September, 1954, 27 unions had participated in these classes and several had joined in more than one of the series. As this form of education reaches the rank and file of union members, its importance cannot be over-emphasized and the series of classes have been reorganized with an improved syllabus and two women teachers have been included in the panel of lecturers. By the end of the year 19 trade unions had enrolled for the new series, 18 of which had not previously participated.

For the third successive year representatives from trade unions in Hong Kong attended the I.C.F.T.U. college in Calcutta for a three months' study course in trade unionism. The I.C.F.T.U. also organized two training classes in the Colony during the summer, the first of which was reasonably successful.

Collective Agreements[edit]

Although a number of agreements are in force and are working satisfactorily, no new agreement was negotiated during the year. Attempts were made to negotiate an agreement at the Fung Keong Rubber Manufactory Ltd., the largest and oldest rubber factory in the Colony, but they were not successful. The demands from the workers would have increased labour costs by at least 50% in a concern already paying the highest wages in a highly competitive industry.

Labour Disputes and Stoppages[edit]

There were singularly few stoppages of work in 1954 and the year's record was inferior only to 1952 when no more than 195 man days were lost. Conditions were comparatively stable and except in one instance left wing unions continued their policy of trying to attract more members by emphasis on welfare activities rather than by intervention in industrial disputes. The activities of right wing unions were, however, responsible for the loss of 930 man days in two unsuccessful strikes.

The only instance of active participation by left wing unions in an industrial dispute occurred in the campaign against the management of the Hong Kong Tramways, Ltd., on the question of termination of services for redundancy. At the end of the war this Company was faced with the necessity of undertaking an extensive rehabilitation programme covering its permanent way, rolling stock and equipment. This programme entailed the engagement of many additional workers, and extra traffic staff was also engaged to deal with the increased traffic for the expanding population of the Colony. The rehabilitation programme is nearing completion and this, coupled with mechanical improvements to rolling stock such as pneumatically operated gates, has made a number of workers redundant. The Company has been laying off batches of workers over the last two years and in July, 1954 it dispensed with the services of 31 traffic men, among whom were the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Tramway Workers' Union. All men laid off on the ground of redundancy have been given due wages in lieu of notice and a retiring gratuity of 10% of a year's basic pay for every year of service, irrespective of the length of time they have been employed by the Company. This retiring gratuity is normally given only to men who retire after completing 10 ten years' service. The Tramway Workers' Union is a registered union but it is not recognized by the management as representing the workers. The management withdrew recognition from this union in 1950, on the grounds that it did not genuinely represent the interests of the workers, was continually guilty of gross misrepresentation and falsification of reports and maintained its position by means of political intimidation and threats against the workers' relatives in China.

The earlier cases of redundancy dismissals had produced fomal protests from the union, but their reaction to the July dismissals was more positive. It took the form of an attack on the principle of an employer's right to stop employing redundant workers and the union demanded that the matter should be settled by mediation or compulsory arbitration. The Tramway management refused to compromise or to submit to arbitration on the question of principle. They stated, however, that they would welcome an independent Commission of Inquiry to go into all the facts of the dispute, including the facts relating to their withdrawal of recognition from the union so that the public might have the opportunity of forming its own judgement on this matter. The union were not prepared to welcome the appointment of such a Commission. Since there is no prospect of mediation or voluntary arbitration in this dispute, and since there is no provision in Hong Kong for compulsory arbitration, it follows that the dispute will have to be settled between the union and the management.

At the end of the year, union action had still been confined mainly to an extensive press and propaganda campaign aimed at arousing public sympathy, but there have been two token strikes—one of two hours on 1st September and one of approximately 24 hours on 10th October—which received partial support from the workers.

Minor Disputes[edit]

The number of minor disputes dealt with during the year was 1,418, a figure nearly 10% less than that of the previous year. As in past years, the number of cases dealt with monthly was at its highest at the beginning of the year and gradually declined towards the end of the year. This is due to the traditional custom of employers making their staff changes at the beginning of the year.

Labour Legislation[edit]

The Workmen's Compensation (Amendment) Ordinance, 1954, which was passed in December, 1954, brought locally-engaged civilian employees of the three Armed Services within the scope of the Workmen's Compensation Ordinance, 1953, and gave the Commissioner of Labour authority to approve payment of compensation where the amount to be paid had been agreed by both parties. Fatal cases and disputed cases continue to be dealt with by the District Courts.

Safety, Health and Welfare[edit]

In addition to registered premises, there are approximately 300 recorded establishments and other industrial undertakings subject to inspection by labour inspectors for purposes of safety, health and welfare or in connexion with the employment of women and young persons. The same reasons require that inspectors extend their activities to the hundreds of cottage industries in domestic buildings and squatter areas. A total of 15,085 visits were made by the inspectorate during the year. Of these 2,323 were in connexion with industrial and occupational accidents and workmen's compensation; 667 were night visits to industrial premises in connexion with the employment of women and young persons in prohibited hours; 831 were visits to young persons employed in industry; 103 were wage inquiries and 92 were visits to apprentices. The remaining 11,069 were routine inspections of workplaces for the enforcement of safety, health and welfare provisions.

During the year 1,714 occupational and industrial accidents (92 fatal) involving 1,748 persons were reported and investigated. Of these, 1,143 (20 fatal) were in factories and workshops. This is a total increase of 1,077 (45 fatal) and in factories and workshops, an increase of 671 (6 fatal). The accident frequency rate for industrial workers has increased from 4.6 to 6 per thousand workers and fatalities from 0.13 to 0.16 per thousand. The considerable increase in recorded accidents, although due in part to the increased number of industrial establishments, is mainly the result of increased reporting brought about by the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Ordinance.

Workmen's Compensation[edit]

The Workmen's Compensation Ordinance came into force on 1st December, 1953, and 1954 was the first full year of operation. Over 1,700 cases were dealt with and more than $320,000 was paid out in compensation. The Ordinance requires an employer to pay half wages for periods of temporary incapacity but many employers in fact pay wages in full as well as medical expenses and the cost of artificial limbs where an employee loses a limb in an industrial accident.

Industrial Training[edit]

Apprenticeship and Vocational Training[edit]

Craft apprenticeship within the Government service is provided by the Kowloon-Canton Railway, the Public Works Department in its electrical, mechanical and waterworks branches, the Stores Department in its workshops and by the Printing Department. Outside Government apprenticeship training schemes are operated by the Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Co. Ltd., the Royal Naval Dockyard, by the public utilities and by a number of other European and Chinese firms. Encouragement is given by these concerns to apprentices to attend technical classes and financial help is sometimes given.

Apprenticeship is common in Chinese industrial establishments but with a few exceptions systematic training and supervision are lacking. Usually the apprentice is excepted to acquire his skill by watching and imitating skilled workers.

Vocational training classes for coxswains and engineers are operated by the Marine Department for Government employees and by the Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for fishermen. These were well attended and in 1954 217 fishermen obtaining their certificates of competency as coxswains and 20 as engineers. Vocational classes are also run by different industrial undertakings and by various organizations such as trade unions.

During the year a Standing Committee on Technical Education and Vocational Training was appointed by the Governor and met several times. Its terms of reference were (i) to keep under constant review the current facilities for, and the varying requirements of, technical education and vocational training with particular reference to commerce and industry; and (ii) to advise Government on the steps to be taken to meet these requirements and on all other general matters relating to technical education and vocational training.