Leung Chun-ying

Wages stumble in stampede to increase profit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am


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Hong Kong wages since the handover have risen just half as much as the city's per capita economic output, with lowly workers the worst off.

If not for the minimum wage, the lowest-paid workers would have seen either a minimal pay rise or a pay reduction compared with 1997, unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said.

'Businesses have thrived and many people have reaped the benefits during these 15 years, but workers have been completely left behind,' the general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions said.

The problem was something new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying must address, he said.

While the per capita gross domestic product has climbed about 50 per cent since the handover, wages have risen only 21 per cent, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

While the pay of a middle manager has risen about 19 per cent during that time, that of the lowest-paid worker has risen just 7 per cent.

And before the minimum hourly wage of HK$28 took effect early last year, wages in this bracket had dropped 3.5 per cent.

For instance, the monthly salary of office supervisors rose from HK$16,500 in 1997 to HK$20,400 this year, according to official figures.

Over the same period, toilet cleaners' pay had risen from about HK$5,000 to HK$5,600 in the first quarter of last year, before the minimum wage. It rose to HK$6,700 later in the year, and has since remained steady.

Security officer Chung Kwai-keung, 63, used to make HK$11,000 a month as a contract repairman in a hospital in 1997, but now makes HK$7,100.

His salary was just HK$4,700 at one point, before the minimum wage was introduced.

'From 1997 to now, I feel that I am worthless in society. My salary has always been behind price increases,' he said. 'I've been in Hong Kong for such a long time. I'm wondering what my contribution to society means. Are we working just to be milked dry by big companies?'

Lee said it had become commonplace for government departments to outsource their cleaning and security work, resulting in lower wages and cut-throat competition.

'The crux of it all is the high rent that's plaguing everyone except the well-off,' he said. 'Facing such ever-rising rent, bosses can't help but freeze, or even lower, staff wages.'

Lee urged the new administration to hasten the revision of the minimum-wage level and study introducing standard working hours.

'Leung may do something to pacify workers, but take a look at his manifesto and you'll be disappointed to find nothing specifically related to wages or working hours,' he said.

Leung's election manifesto said he would set up a task force to study the issue.

The Minimum Wage Commission is expected to release its recommendation on the salary floor at the end of October.