The article was originally published in Chinese on 3 March 2014 by Jenny. This English version was also translated by Jenny and republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.
In the past few months, a new digital media, WK News, has emerged on Facebook. Unlike other news sites, the focus of WK News is mostly labour news that is usually underreported by mainstream media.
“What we try to do is not just to care and sympathize with workers, but to empower them to have their own voices via new media, and introduce labour issues into the society,” according to Chris, one of the founders of the site. WK News’ target readers are the three million wage earners as well as university and college students in Hong Kong. “As long as you have to make a living by earning your bread, you are part of us.”
Although grassroots new media has started to prosper in Hong Kong since 2003, so far there is not one single news site that targets the city’s working class. During the dock workers’ strikes against long hours and low pay work last year, WK News creators found that workers were using Facebook to post strike updates and gather support. They started to realize the potential of the Internet to empower the labour movement.
Founders of WKNews include Chris, a former mainstream media journalist, and Gilbert, a long-time researcher on China’s labour issues.
Gilbert used to do field research by working as a blue-collar worker, and thus has first-hand experience of the toil and hardship of the working class. “Many of Hong Kong’s jobs are atomized, such as night-shift workers, mysterious shoppers and security guards. They rarely see their colleagues at work and lack opportunity to communicate with colleague. The rise of social media can overcome that shortfall.”
However, the majority of netizens in Hong Kong usually adopt an indifferent attitude towards labour issues. WK News used to post on Facebook the number of work injuries and work deaths within a month. The post did not attract much attention and the click rate was very low.
“Today’s news has to be novel, weird, tragic or miserable in order to cater to the curiosity mentality of the public,” said Chris. The purpose of WK News is to “introduce labour issues into the community and make a difference to the society.”
New media vs. old
Most of the WK News audience is young blue-collar and white-collar workers who know how to use social media to publish and share information. In the digital age, unions in Hong Kong still heavily rely on traditional methods of organizing workers. They also lack personnel to design, update timely, and maintain their websites.
Since its launch last August, WK News’ Facebook page has already won 5,000 “likes”, more than the fan page of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), one of the most well established worker organization in Hong Kong.
On February 4 of this year, a story on the excessive working hours in the accounting sector that WK News shared on Facebook has received a remarkable organic reach of 300,000.
In addition to sharing and interacting on social media, WK News is also studying how to present the news in a more direct, attractive and convincing way, such as by designing infographics.
In February, WK News website was officially established. Website sections include international perspective, historical perspective, local perspective, commentaries and lifestyle tips. Founders hope the international perspectives section can lend experience to local labour movement.
WK News encourages workers to contribute stories to the website and hope to cultivate regular contributors. In addition, they have started approaching local labour organizations for content collaboration. But as WK News is still a new voice in Hong Kong, they haven’t heard much reply. At present, the WK News website has reposted several of stories from HKCTU.
“In the near future, the union will embrace a younger workforce. The way that young workers think, do things and communicate is quite different from old workers. What WK News is doing now is to blaze the trail for traditional unions, and explore how to use new media to organise and mobilise workers,” said Gilbert.
One of WK News’ main campaigns this year is to advocate for legislation on standard working hours in Hong Kong.
Overtime work has been rampant in Hong Kong. In the absence of legislative protection, employees often face the consequence of working overtime without overtime pay. In certain industries, the contractual working hours can be up to 12 hours a day, which would have a negative impact on workers’ health and their family lives.
The 2012 labour party’s survey report noted that 59 percent of full-time employees work 48 hours per week on average, and 20 percent work no less than 60 hours. About 70 percent of respondents did not receive any overtime pay, and over 80 percent of respondents believed that the government should enact legislation to regulate working hours.
The government promised to study standard working hours in its 2010-2011 annual policy address, and set up a standard working hours committee last April. This January, the committee started the first round of public consultation, but received lukewarm public response.
WK News hopes to raise awareness of standard working hours through discussions, conduct interviews and field researches to highlight the most worrisome industries, and make the public realize the importance of legislating standard working hours.
Aside from standard working hours, WK News also hopes to initiate action and policy campaigns during major labour incidents to exert influence. For instance, WK News created a debate during last year’s Indonesian maid abuse case. Meanwhile, Chris is also concerned that once WK News gets influential, they might get sued by big bosses under the accusation of “defamation”.
WK News, as an independent new media, invariably faces many challenges in maintaining its operation. Using Gilbert’s word, it is “lack of money, manpower and reputation.”
WK News now has six volunteers, all of whom wear many hats. Each of them does writing, editing, art and design. Students are asking about volunteering, but due to the lack of trainers and workspace, founders find it difficult to get more hands to help.
At the end of the interview, WK News founder said, “WK News invites everyone to get involved. We welcome your emails. We really need you.”