HK freezes minimum wage amid high unemployment

In this Feb 24, 2020 file photo, shops in Hong Kong’s popular tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui remain closed amid the coronavirus pandemic. - China Daily/ANN

HONG KONG, Feb 2 (China Daily/ANN): Hong Kong’s statutory hourly minimum wage will remain at HK$37.5 (US$4.83) amid high unemployment and the economic recession brought about by the pandemic, the city’s labour chief said on Tuesday.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong made the announcement after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and members of the Executive Council accepted the Minimum Wage Commission’s proposal to keep the current wage level.

Law said in a briefing that most of the commission’s members agreed to keep the current minimum wage, adding that Hong Kong is in deep recession with a high jobless rate.

"The Hong Kong economy was in a deep recession with an elevated unemployment rate and the economic outlook was faced with an unusually high degree of uncertainty. Under such an austere economic environment, maintaining the prevailing statutory hourly minimum wage rate can help strike an appropriate balance between the objectives of forestalling excessively low wages and minimizing the loss of low-paid jobs," Law said.

The current wage level for non-domestic workers took effect on May 1, 2019 and this is the first time that the minimum wage will remain unchanged since it was introduced a decade ago.

The law requires the commission to review the city’s minimum wage every other year, but employer and labor representatives failed to reach a consensus this time, which is also a first in its history.

According to data from the commission, around 22,000 employees were paid by the hourly minimum wage as of June 2019, and more than half of them were security guards and cleaners.

Law said the next review will be finished by October 2022, and that raising the minimum wage should not be regarded as the only way to tackle poverty issues, as the government is studying other measures to help the underprivileged.

When the Minimum Wage Ordinance took effect in 2011, the city's hourly minumum wage was at HK$28. - China Daily/ANN

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