Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Hong Kong: Nepali security staff demand a living wage

Mon, 19 Jan 2009.

Security company G4S has not raised wages for thirteen years

Miu Dak Kit, chinaworker.info, Hong Kong

Today, 19 January, a group of about 200 G4S security officers protested outside the Securicor Centre headquarters in Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong. A high police presence, including many plain clothes officers watched from the sidelines as an angry but peaceful crowd blocked half the street in front of the Securicor Centre. G4S is the world’s largest security company, operating in over 100 countries.

There are about 600 Nepalese working for G4S in Hong Kong, making up one in four of its employees. Hong Kong’s large Nepali community is a legacy of the Gurkha soldiers who served in the British Army here in Hong Kong until 1997. And herein lies the problem: G4S practises a discriminatory employment policy. It grades Nepalis as either GSO (Gurkha Security Officer – one with an army background), or NSO (Nepalese Security Officer – one without an army background) and pays each group differently according to their classification; HK$33 (US$4.25) an hour for GSO and HK$28 (US$3.60) an hour for NSO. Both GSO and NSO do exactly the same job, but this is not why the employees are outraged. Despite their classifications, G4S is hiring ex-Gurkhas and classifying them as NSO, and thus paying them lower wages. This makes a mockery of any classification system they have in place. The Nepalese workers are demanding equal treatment and the abolition of discriminatory, arbitrary classifications.

Their other demands include a basic minimum wage of HK$14,000 per month (US$1,804) and an overtime rate of $50. They are also demanding that contract staff should get a permanent post when they reach the age of 45. As these workers told chinaworker.info, they have not had a wage increase in the previous 13 years! These demands could hardly be described as unreasonable.

The workers demands were issued on 12 January with an ultimatum. Today’s protests were in response to the management’s intransigence. Representatives from the Nepalese workers and their union, HKCTU (Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions), presented their demands to the management in front of company headquarters. The next step will depend on the management’s response. At a time when new anti-discrimination legislation is being discussed in Hong Kong, and given the amount of discriminatory practices in all walks of Hong Kong life, protests like those seen today are necessary and likely to increase.

G4S – global giant with anti-union reputation

G4S, formerly known as Group 4 Securicor, is headquartered in Denmark but listed on the London stock exchange. The company employs over 570,000 workers globally and is no newcomer to controversial practises. In the US, its subsidiary Wackenhut won the contract from the Bush administration in 2007 to deport migrants across the Mexican border. While G4S global profits rose 17 percent in 2007 to 312 million pounds (HK$3.6 billion), it has been accused by trade unions of a series of violations including not paying its workforce in Africa a living wage and using “intimidation, instigating police and military forces” in its dealings with unionised workers.
“15,000 jobs are at stake in France and Germany because G4S would prefer to increase its margins by focusing on parts of the world where it is not challenged by strong unions. In some countries G4S doesn’t even increase workers’ pay for overtime. In at least one country, it cuts workers’ pay in half. This is something that our global union can’t tolerate if we are going to raise standards in Europe or anywhere else,” said Lars Lindgren of the Swedish Transport Union in a statement in March 2008.
One of the most famous cases of G4S trampling on workers rights was in Jakarta, Indonesia, two years ago. Even the US State Department Report on Human Rights in Indonesia, published in March 2006, featured this dispute involving G4S. In July 2006 the Indonesian Securicor workers had a substantial win. The campaign group formed to support these workers continues to support other Group 4 Securicor workers. This is an example of working class internationalism and solidarity that is necessary especially in standing up to global giants such as G4S. Workers at other G4S branches around the globe, and other trade unionists, should send messages of support to the Hong Kong Nepali security workers in their fight for an end to discrimination and for a living wage.
see Chinaworker report for more pictures http://www.chinaworker.org/en/content/news/618/

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