More than half of the city’s firemen say they are willing to go along with a proposal by the Fire Services Department to cut working hours to 51 hours from 54 hours per week. The arrangement, however, falls short of the firefighters’ demand that working hours be cut even further to 48 hours a week.
The Staff General Association said the polling results among firemen are unofficial, and the union will withhold taking a position on the reduced hours, until a general meeting next week.
The department conducted a questionnaire survey from August 20 to 25. Over 5,700 firemen were questioned, with 55.9 percent of respondents saying they support the department’s proposal to cut working hours. Another 29.6 percent of those who answered the questionnaire said they were opposed. Another 12.9 percent of respondents had no opinion.
The number of questionnaires showing support outnumbered those who opposed by a ratio of almost 2 to 1, said Deputy Chief Fire Officer (Fire Safety) Ng Kuen-chi.
Ng said, “This result reflected that most of our colleagues support the new 51-hour proposal, (and) the department also decided to apply for the trial from the policy bureaus. If approved, the new plan is expected to be put to the test in stages by the end of the year.” Ng added if the proposal for the reduction to a 51 hour week is finally approved, the practicability of the plan will be reviewed by all parties concerned. If the shorter week proves satisfactory, the department will set up a working group to study whether there is room to reduce working hours to meet the union demand of 48 hours each week.
There are about 9,100 uniformed fire department personnel and about 600 civilian members, according to figures from the department.
The firefighters have waged a 20-year campaign demanding parity of working hours (48-hours per week) with other disciplined services.
Lee Tak-kei, chairman of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department Staff General Association, said on Thursday, responding to the department’s proposal, “We always have insisted on 48 hours a week, and consider the 51 hours plan as transitional.”
He said the association has reservations about the results of the survey, noting about 30 percent of the respondents don’t like the plan. He added the association will have a general assembly on September 4 and 5, and that meeting will determine where the union stands.
Since mid-June, the department has discussed the proposal with staff associations and all units, before coming up with its suggested plan early in August to cut working hours. Initially the staff association rejected the proposal, and some off-duty staff staged a sit-in outside government headquarters at Tamar on August 20.
The department reiterated that it has taken into account the efficiency of emergency services and daily operations when formulating the new proposal, which complies with three basic principles. It is cost-neutral, needs no additional manpower, and maintains the same level of service.