No consensus on Hong Kong minimum wage for first time ever, sources say on commission meeting

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Members of a Hong Kong commission set up to review the city’s minimum wage level had failed to reach a consensus on a new level for the first time since the index was introduced in 2011, two sources said on Thursday.

The lack of an agreement among members of the Minimum Wage Commission to adjust the current level of HK$37.50 an hour, meant the ball was now in the government’s court on whether the amount should go up at all, the sources said.

While commission members from the labour sector called for an increment to at least HK$39, business sector representatives insisted it stay at HK$37.50 or be raised to just HK$38, saying the Covid-19 outbreak had battered the economy.

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“Representatives insisted that businesses had been difficult for many bosses this year,” a source with knowledge of the closed-door talks said.

It would be very unjust if the minimum wage earners cannot even get a small raise

Wong Kwok, chairman, Federation of Trade Unions

“These days, fast-food places charge you HK$39 for lunch and you don’t even get a drink. That means workers making the minimum wage cannot even afford a proper lunch with an hour’s salary.”

This is the first time that all 12 members of the commission have failed to reach a consensus, since the minimum wage level of HK$28 was put in place in 2011.

The minimum wage rose to HK$30 in 2013, HK$32.50 in 2015, HK$34.50 in 2017 and HK$37.50 last year. The law requires the hourly wage to be reviewed at least once every two years.

Only about 0.7 per cent of the workforce, or 21,200 people, were making HK$37.50 an hour as of mid-2019. Photo: Winson Wong
Only about 0.7 per cent of the workforce, or 21,200 people, were making HK$37.50 an hour as of mid-2019. Photo: Winson Wong

The commission is expected to submit a report to the city’s chief executive next month, outlining various suggestions put forth by its members.

According to official data, only about 0.7 per cent of the workforce, or 21,200 people, were making HK$37.50 an hour as of mid-2019, about half of them being security guards and cleaners.

Hong Kong employers push for minimum wage freeze amid economy battered by Covid-19

But employers have for years warned of a “butterfly effect”, suggesting those making more than the minimum wage would ask for a raise once the statutory wage level is revised upwards.

Federation of Trade Unions chairman Wong Kwok, formerly a commission member, urged the government to show leadership and raise the minimum wage level.

“It would be very unjust if the minimum wage earners cannot even get a small raise,” he said.

If eventually the government is to raise the wage level, it would only take effect around May next year.

Hong Kong’s economy has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic this year. The city’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.1 per cent in August, but the number of underemployed people hit a 17-year high of 3.8 per cent.

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