Mirror concert accident: Dancers call for more protection at work

Members of the task force inspect the scene in question at the Hong Kong Coliseum. Photo: Document via South China Morning Post

Last month’s tragic accident at a concert by boy band Canto-pop Mirror, which seriously injured a dancer, has raised questions about the well-being of performers in the entertainment industry in Hong Kong.

“A lot of dancers are afraid to speak out because they fear being branded ‘troublemakers’ and losing job opportunities,” said Alan Wong Sui-lun, 36, a professional dancer and choreographer. with 15 years of experience.

He was one of the first in the industry to take to social media after the July 28 crash, saying performers need better labor protections.

Dancer Mo Li Ka-yin, 27, suffered spinal cord injuries and was in intensive care after a four by four meter overhead video monitor weighing 560kg broke loose and crashed onto the stage during the gig.

Telecommunications company PCCW, which owns MakerVille, one of the organizers of the Mirror concert, has promised to pay the full medical bill for Li, who is at risk of being paralyzed from the neck down.

But others in the industry said performers were mostly on their own if injured on the job, due to their flexible employment terms.

Professional dancer Franco Chu Kai-sing, 34, recalls being too scared to make a fuss after injuring himself while rehearsing for a 2011 concert of canto-pop actor and singer Leon Lai Ming .

He said a lifting platform had been lowered from the stage for repair, leaving a void. With his vision partially blocked by the mask that was part of his costume, he fell and was left with a painful, palm-sized bruise on his lower left abdomen.

The event organizer immediately took him to the hospital and promised to cover his medical expenses, but did not say whether he would be paid if he needed time to rest.

Afraid of losing his job, at his first gig he took painkillers and hid the bruise with make-up and performed on stage for six consecutive nights.

“I was afraid that if I chose not to perform, I wouldn’t get paid,” said Chu, who has been dancing for 11 years. “I might have considered resting if there was an organization of dancers who provided financial support after the injury.”

Wong and Chu said dancers were paid for rehearsals and performances and, like other workers in the gig economy, received no benefits or protections.

Chu said the going rate for dancers in major roles is around HK$100 ($13) an hour for rehearsals and HK$2,800 per show. Those playing minor roles get half the rehearsal rate and HK$2,000-2,500 per show.

He said it was a struggle to make ends meet when he only worked as a dancer at the start of his career, and had to teach dance, choreograph and accept a position at a dance school to earn more.

“Our work is very unstable, we don’t know for sure when our next performance will be. It’s also common for production companies and choreographers to delay our payments,” he said.

He added that production companies frequently take advantage of eager newcomers willing to work for less pay.

Chan Wing-yip, internal vice-president of the Hong Kong Theater Arts Practitioners Union, said dancers deserved higher pay.

“Even though concerts today have fewer shows, live streaming also contributes a significant portion of box office revenue. Dancers’ salaries should be adjusted accordingly instead of sticking to the same old standard that didn’t keep up with inflation,” Chan said.

He said the lack of industry codes made it difficult to regulate dancers’ salaries and they lacked labor protections due to the lack of formal contracts.

Fay Siu Sin-man, chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Workers’ Injuries, an NGO that helps victims of workplace accidents fight for their rights, said the dancers were at a great disadvantage if they they were injured at work.

Most were hired by choreographers or production companies with only freelance work contracts, or service or verbal agreements.

“Concert dancers have no control over their working hours, they are given costumes and do not bear the financial risk for the show. All of this shows that they are in fact employed by production companies and are not self-employed,” Siu said.

She added that businesses bear less labor costs and legal liability to the self-employed and are not legally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance for the self-employed.

Under the Employees Compensation Ordinance, injured workers who are temporarily incapacitated can receive up to HK$370 per day for medical expenses and paid sick leave for up to two years. . Persons with permanent partial incapacity are entitled to additional compensation.

Lawyer Samuel Hung Wan-ki, a partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said having service contracts in place between independent artists and production companies could provide better labor protection.

Having a contract that specified what insurance would be purchased and who had to purchase it could help improve coverage for these workers in the event of a workplace accident.

Dancer Chu said that in addition to insurance coverage, the industry should introduce proper employment contracts that clearly state the salary, payment term and scope of work.

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