Hong Kong workers reel as minimum wage is frozen

A worker walks past a barricaded entrance to Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2020. - AFP

HONG KONG (China Daily/ANN): Hong Kong’s labour sector is demanding an annual review of the city’s minimum wage policy, and that workers be granted subsidies if their wages are not raised.

The minimum wage has been frozen amid the Covid-19 pandemic for the first time since the law took effect a decade ago.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the freeze is in response to the city’s “deep recession with an elevated unemployment rate” and to “strike an appropriate balance between the objectives of forestalling excessively low wages and minimizing the loss of low-paid jobs”.

According to the latest government report published in late March, there were 16,500 employees paid the minimum hourly wage of HK$37.5 (US$4.83) as of June last year, accounting for 0.6 percent of the local workforce. Previous reports showed more than half of them were in the estate management, security and cleaning services sectors.

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions — the city’s largest labor group with more than 410,000 members — is fuming at the freeze, calling it “unfair and unreasonable” to the grassroots, whose purchasing power will be eroded by inflation.

Dennis Leung Tsz-wing, a member of the federation’s Rights and Benefits Committee, said in a petition campaign that they’ve been lobbying for subsidies for workers living on minimum wage to ensure their quality of life.

If the government insists on freezing the minimum wage level at HK$37.5, it should offer subsidies accordingly to make up for the loss of actual purchasing power, he said.

Leung took Law to task, arguing that the loss of some 20,000 low-paid jobs is too little to affect the entire labor market, and the government will only need to set aside HK$100 million a year to subsidise workers for a rise of HK$2. - China Daily/Asia News Network

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