Hong Kong hotel workers paying price for protests as Mira, InterContinental force staff to take leave

Kanis Leung

Hong Kong’s hotel workers are paying the price for nearly three months of anti-government protests, with many placed involuntarily on paid and unpaid leave as occupancy rates plummet.

The Post has learned that the Mira Hong Kong, in the bustling tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui, has become the latest of the city’s high-end hotels to put employees on leave, with scores of housekeeping staff at the 492-room hotel set for an unwanted break.

A few streets away, the 503-room InterContinental Hong Kong hotel has asked permanent members of staff to take annual leave and unpaid leave to save money, with 10 hotels operated by tycoon Li Ka-shing’s CK Asset Holdings reportedly making a similar move.

The growing trend emerged as the government warned that the extradition bill protests, now in their third month, had damaged the city’s economy, reporting shrinking figures in tourist arrivals and room occupancy rates.

A worker at the Mira, who wished to remain anonymous, said the company had assigned annual leave and other holidays for staff on the roster this month without asking them.

She estimated one-third of the 100-strong housekeeping team were being asked to take a break, as the hotel’s occupancy rate fell to between 50 and 60 per cent.

While bosses had not officially told staff about the move, the worker believed it was because of the poor economy.

“I feel unhappy ... It is summertime which should be very busy. This is all because of the protesters,” the employee said.

“They should protest peacefully instead of making Hong Kong unstable. Tourists are not willing to come to Hong Kong any more.”

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The city has been rocked by protests since June 9, sparked by now-abandoned legislation that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement, including mainland China.

Clashes have broken out in various parts of the city over the past 11 weeks, including at Hong Kong International Airport, where operations were disrupted for six days in a row last week. During two days of that period, nearly 1,000 flights were cancelled.

Commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah earlier said the number of inbound tourists dropped more than 30 per cent for the first 10 days in August, and industry figures said the protests could be worse for Hong Kong than the 2003 Sars outbreak.

According to the Catering and Hotel Industries Employees General Union, the InterContinental Hong Kong sent an email to staff saying the protests had hurt the economy and its occupancy levels were down considerably.

“It is only right that we take ‘corrective measures’ to protect our payroll and prevent our bank balance from slipping further in the red,” read the email, seen by the Post.

Hong Kong’s tourism industry has been hit by a drop in visitors, and two days of chaos at the city’s airports where hundreds of flights were cancelled did not help. Photo: Bloomberg

Under the plan, some staff, including department heads, are to take one day of annual leave and two days of unpaid leave in August. Next month, all permanent staff are being forced to take two days of annual leave and another two of unpaid leave.

The union’s organising secretary, Ho Hung-hing, could not say how many staff members had been affected, but added that even though workers were not happy with the arrangement, they had to do what they were told.

Ho said that previously frontline employees had not been allowed to take holidays during peak seasons, because of manpower shortages.

“When [companies] claim to have quieter businesses now, they then resort to [hurting] the workers,” Ho said.

Meanwhile, CK Asset has reportedly asked staff to take unpaid leave at 10 hotels, including the Harbour Grand Hong Kong in North Point and the Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees in To Kwa Wan.

According to the Labour Department, the timing of annual leave should be appointed by the employer after consultation with workers or their representatives. Bosses should also confirm this through a written notice to staff at least 14 days in advance, unless a shorter period was mutually agreed upon.

Mira’s spokeswoman said she had no information on whether her company had made such a move without consent from workers, but admitted that it should not happen under normal circumstances, and that the hotel would follow up on cases if there were any.

She said encouraging employees to clear their leave near the end of the year was a normal practice.

“Managers try to arrange rosters according to workers’ preferences, but there are so many people that we can’t honour every colleague’s request,” she added.

She said employees could still discuss arrangements with their managers after receiving their rosters.

The Hotels, Food and Beverage Employees Association urged bosses not to force staff to sign agreements on unpaid leave, saying doing so might breach the Employment Ordinance.

The Post has contacted InterContinental Hong Kong and CK Asset for comment.

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