Hong Kong NGO urges government to raise minimum wage, calls for annual review to keep up with inflation

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A concern group has urged the government to raise Hong Kong’s minimum wage to at least HK$50 (US$6.37) per hour as it has remained unchanged for the last three years, adding that the base pay should be reviewed annually to keep up with inflation.

The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) said that although the current minimum wage of HK$37.50 per hour marked an increase of 33.9 per cent since its introduction in 2011, the consumer price index had soared close to 40 per cent in the past 12 years.

“We believe the city’s minimum wage should be at least HK$50 per hour, so we can ensure that the minimum monthly income of citizens can be over 60 per cent of the median monthly one-person household expenditure of HK$16,000,” Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser at SoCO, said on Saturday.

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“In the long term, we hope the minimum wage can be further increased to HK$58 per hour, so the minimum monthly income can be over 60 per cent of the median monthly one-person household income of around HK$18,000.”

Hong Kong’s hourly minimum wage frozen at HK$37.50

The practice of reviewing the base pay once every two years was too favourable to management, Ng said. The current wage level was set in 2019 and has remained unchanged since then.

He suggested that the government should review the minimum wage every year to keep up with inflation, stressing that authorities should have more objective standards when assessing the pay level, as well as factoring in average income and expenditure.

Ng added that the government’s use of the economic downturn as justification for not amending wage levels was too vague.

The review should also include a poverty impact assessment to better understand how the wage level would help reduce the city’s poverty rate, the community organiser said.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong on Sunday dismissed the calls for an annual review of the minimum wage, calling it “unfeasible” and that it would only be possible if the existing two-year process underwent significant reforms.

He said although an annual review was possible at a legislative level, all the other necessary work involved, such as research, analysis and consultation, under the existing mechanism could only be completed within the framework of a two-year process.

Law also said the 23.2 per cent increase in the minimum wage from HK$28 per hour in 2011 to HK$34.50 in 2017 surpassed inflation of 20.4 per cent over the same period. He added that the 8.7 per cent rise to HK$37.50 in 2019 was the largest increase since the minimum wage was introduced.

The Labour Department said the review mechanism factored in a series of indexes including the overall economic situation, competition in the labour market, opinions in society and discussions by the Minimum Wage Commission.

It also said the commission had no fixed position on amending the wage rate, adding that it would consider different views with an open attitude.

SoCO’s recommendations come as the commission carries out a public consultation on the wage review, which is set to finish on May 31. The independent statutory body will submit its recommendation to the government in October.

Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser for the Society for Community Organization. Photo: Edmond So
Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser for the Society for Community Organization. Photo: Edmond So

Statistics from the commission showed that 14,300 employees, who mostly worked in property management, retail and catering industries, only received the minimum wage in May and June of 2021.

A security guard surnamed Chu said he was worried the commission would only consider the business sector’s views during the consultation.

The 64-year-old, who lives with his brother on a public housing estate, said he worked 10 hours a day, 26 days a month and received a monthly salary of HK$10,000, meaning he only earned HK$38.40 per hour on average.

He said his brother was a casual worker in the catering industry and did not have a stable income.

“I need to spend HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 on food, around HK$2,000 on monthly rent, and another HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 on other necessities, leaving me with only around HK$1,000 to spare every month,” Chu said.

The security guard added that he found it especially hard to keep up with the rise in food prices.

“Back in 2009, I could dine at a restaurant and enjoy rice with siu mei for around HK$20. Now it costs over HK$50,” he said.

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“I have not thought about retiring as I do not have enough savings. The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme only provides a little financial aid, so I would rather just keep working,” Chu said, referring to the government’s monthly allowances for the needy.

Chu said he believed he would need to earn at least HK$50 per hour to pay for expenses without government subsidies.

He currently receives a monthly government allowance of HK$1,400 for the working poor and HK$2,000 in Covid-related subsidies.

“The management of the building I work in only pays us the minimum wage. I did not ask them to raise the rate as I worry they may just find other people to replace me,” he said.

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