The Covid-19 pandemic has affected businesses worldwide but it most acute impact has been on employment and labour relations. Many have been talking about the emergence of a “new normal” however old habits from the old normal die hard. This includes the way companies treat its workers shabbily in times of crisis. The Hong Kong based Li & Fung with over one century history is one unfortunate example.
Mr. Spencer Fung, the chairman of the Li & Fung Group recently spent US$1 billion to privatise the company. The company immediately announced it would dismiss ten percent of its worldwide workforce. The majority of the targeted dismissals are from Hong Kong and China with one thousand workers affected.
The way the company handles the dismissals is dismal and inhumane. Cheung Lai Ha, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Retail, Commerce and Clothing Industries General Union (RCCIGU) shared that the union received complaints from the Li & Fung employees with many of them serving the company from between 3 years and up to 35 years. The inhumane part was the short one-month notice of dismissal and no fair compensation would be paid to affected workers who have contributed to the company for many years.
Attempts by the RCCIGU to dialogue was ignored by the company. With no avenue left, the union together with the aggrieved workers went on a strike and demonstrated in front of the Li & Fung Tower on 19 June. The action managed to get Ms. Anna Tehan, Executive Vice-President for Corporate Communications of the company to receive the workers’ petition backed by 390 signatures collected during the staff signatures campaign.
The demands of the workers are fair: the company should adhere to its own Key Operating Guidelines (KOG) and pay at least 3 months of severance payment. It should fulfil its contractual obligations to pay the 2019 annual bonuses and the “5-year Services” award due to employees. It should also communicate with the dismissed employees in a swift and timely manner and not ignoring their requests for dialogue.
UNI Apro Regional Secretary Rajendra Acharya expresses his solidarity with the RCCIGU and the affected Li & Fung workers. He said, “It is sad that the company with an illustrious 112-year heritage is managing this in such a manner. Many of the workers have given years and even decades of service to the company. To be dismissed at such short notice without any consultation and compensation is very unfair towards the workers. The workers’ voice needs to be heard now especially during this pandemic crisis.”