Keeping to guidelines

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 October, 1998, 12:00am

Only a week after guidelines to protect workers facing pay cuts were hammered out at the Labour Advisory Board, unions are already complaining that one employer seems not to be abiding by these new rules.

Whatever the facts in this case involving a small clothing company, the eruption of this controversy so soon after the agreement highlights the inherent limitations of such voluntary guidelines. The Labour Department admits freely there is nothing it can do if employers refuse to follow them.

This means that workers can still be forced to take a pay cut without being given even a few days to consider their options. Or, as allegedly occurred in this case, they may be faced with the alternative of being sacked and receiving compensation based on their new and lower wage.

While it is too early to know if these new guidelines will be widely flouted, it seems likely that further action will be needed. The unions would prefer legislation, and there are good arguments for giving guidelines the force of law.

But that would be strenuously opposed by most employers and would take time to implement. An immediate option would be for the Government to adopt a more active role.

Tung Chee-hwa was willing to speak out against Hongkong Telecom's attempts to impose a pay cut.

His officials should be equally prepared publicly to expose and condemn any company which breaches these guidelines, and try to shame them into treating employees properly.