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Official must apologise for union slur, say smoking-ban enforcers

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP

A group of unionists has demanded an apology from the director of food and environmental hygiene for questioning their legitimacy and “stepping on labour rights” in a speech about enforcing the smoking ban.

About 10 unionists protested yesterday at the department’s office in Admiralty against director Cheuk Wing-hing, who said this month that workers who failed to enforce the smoking ban could be disciplined.

Cheuk also urged the public “not to be misled by the requests of some unions that had unknown membership”.

FEHD Staff Rights Union chairwoman Li Mei-siu said it was disrespectful that Cheuk accused them of having an unknown number of members, apparently questioning how representative it was.

“We are a proper labour union and went through proper registration,” she said, adding that they had immediately sent protest letters but had not received a reply.

Li said Cheuk’s warning of disciplinary action was shattering unions’ effort to fight for more rights. “The government should be a role model for all employers, but now they set a bad example,” she said.

The row between unionists and the department began with the extension of smoking bans on September 1. Among the new provisions, 700 staff from the department, 2,200 from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and 430 from the Housing Department are responsible for issuing HK$1,500 fines to people caught smoking in places under their management.

But some workers are unwilling to enforce the ban, citing safety and workload concerns.

A department spokesman said it had not received any resignations or requests to change jobs but would continue to communicate with the unions.

He confirmed that on September 5, a worker was slightly injured by a smoker when enforcing the ban in a wet market.

As of yesterday, the department had made 108 verbal warnings and fined four people.

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