Hong Kong: Why refugees should have the right to work

United struggle needed by local and migrant workers against low wages and exploitation

Socialist Action reporters

Socialist Action fights for refugee rights against the government’s extremely racist and unjust policies. These include one of the lowest rates of asylum approvals on the planet – only 1 in 150 cases. Refugee ‘welfare’ has been contracted out to agencies like ISS HK, which specialise in making life as unpleasant as possible for the refugees.

A key issue is the right to work for refugees so they can survive economically and be freed from poverty and dependence. But this is illegal under existing government policies, with a penalty of up to three years in prison.

In February, two asylum seekers from Indonesia and Vietnam were jailed for 15 months after raids made on restaurants in a North Point and Kwai Chung. There have been many protests calling for the law to be changed. The ban has even been challenged in the law courts, without success. The government isn’t moving.

What is the reason for the government’s hard line? Some European countries which have admitted much greater numbers of asylum seekers than Hong Kong have experienced economic growth as a result. Sweden, which received over 160,000 refugees in 2015 alone (Hong Kong has just 11,000 refugees in total), has seen unemployment fall and GDP growth increase to 4.5 percent. The Hong Kong government’s refusal to allow refugees to work has political not economic motives.

As part of a divide-and-rule policy the government, which represents the interests of the richest tycoons and the Chinese dictatorship, wants to keep refugees segregated from the rest of the population. Even though many refugees are stranded in Hong Kong for ten years or longer, with children born here and going to local schools, the government does not want them to put down roots. The ban on work is a crucial ingredient in this segregation policy.

Hong Kong workers also fear that allowing refugees to work will give company bosses another weapon to attack workers’ wages and conditions. Given the way the labour market is structured today, with workers having very little bargaining power to stand up to bosses, this fear is not unfounded. Socialists say the answer lies in united struggle against the capitalists to improve conditions for all workers – local and from abroad.

All workers should be protected by the legal minimum wage, which should be raised to HK$45 per hour. All workers should have the right to join a union and fight for decent pay and conditions: an eight-hour workday without loss of pay and decent holiday and pension entitlements.