The committee considering statutory maximum working hours in Hong Kong will take up to three years to produce its recommendations. Sounds as if the body is practicing an extreme version of what it has yet to preach, by strictly limiting its efforts to no more than – what? – 30 minutes per week.
Officials insist that it’s technically a very complex issue. It used to be. Standard working hours raise interesting questions. What about forex traders who love 90-hour weeks? What about people whose irregular tasks mean they goof off some months but occasionally have to do tons of overtime? But policy wonks elsewhere sat down and solved these dilemmas years ago. Hong Kong could do worse than just pull Singapore’s system off the shelf, or Australia’s, or someone else’s.
The real problem was summed up by the committee’s chairman, Leong Che-hung, who said: “We will not underestimate the difficulty for society to reach consensus.” Where there should be a modicum of leadership we have a void. And that brings us back to yesterday’s subject (which, to the disappointment of level-headed observers, produced only one comparison of Margaret Thatcher to Hitler among the fashionably near-psychotic feedback).
As if working hours weren’t bad enough, everyone is gearing up for the biggest urban civil conflict since Beirut: next year’s Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign to force Beijing to deliver 100% pure universal suffrage in 2017. The worst/best-case scenario is that for a few days traffic gets re-routed around the main business district, and commuters have to walk a bit further than usual. That’s it.
But no-one has an interest in being calm and relaxed. Beijing, fearing a mass movement and international attention, sets the nervous tone. Local patriots spy an opportunity to whip up popular feeling against the pro-dems by claiming such civic action will paralyze the entire economy and irreparably wreck Hong Kong’s international reputation as a place where people don’t sit in the street, or something. The pro-dems, more excited than they have been for years, half believe they are capable of such enormities. Egged on by one another, everyone ends up wetting themselves, as RTHK reports:
Pro-government lawmakers [yesterday] wanted to know if police had enough officers to deal with the Occupy Central protest – planned to involve at least 10,000 people – if the district should become paralysed and the protest turn violent. They also asked whether psychological counselling would be available to the officers who’ll have to deal with the protesters, and invited the police to come back to Legco just in case they want additional resources.
And, in regards to a budget item about the cost of government flying service taking part in emergency exercises, they also asked if perhaps the PLA Garrison in Hong Kong might be invited to join in an emergency drill. Pro-democracy members, on the other hand, wanted to know if police plan to employ a giant loudspeaking device – dubbed an “acoustical weapon” – whether Hong Kong stadium will be reserved as a holding pen for arrested demonstrators, and whether psychological counselling would be available to officers who were sympathetic to pan-democrats and would become stressed by having to round them up.
So mutual is the freaking-out that you could easily rearrange the terrors. For example, it could be the pro-dems rather than the pro-Beijing camp who raise the dreaded possibility of the PLA running everyone over with tanks, or it could be the pro-Beijing folk rather than the pro-dems who ask if the cops will use their space-age ‘acoustic weapon’ to turn protestors’ brains to jelly that oozes out of their ruptured eardrums. Top prize for colourful imagery must go to whichever pro-dem asked about herding arrestees into the stadium – where presumably Chilean or Guinean soldiers will be waiting. Interestingly, both camps maintain that our law-enforcement personnel are such weenies that they will need counseling after this forthcoming trauma.
One way for the government to pull the rug out from under Occupy Central: pedestrianize the whole area by July 2014 as a long overdue anti-pollution measure, and install park benches everywhere so everyone, pro-democrat or pro-Beijing, can sit in the middle of Queen’s Road as much as they please.