PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am

Have you been asked to pay a credit card surcharge?

I refer to the report ('Watchdog targets credit card ploys', August 16), which requires clarification.

I come from a retail background and would like consumers to realise that small transactions are solely for the benefit of the credit card companies.

If you are purchasing an item for a small amount on a credit card in a store that works on normal margins - not garment stores, that are working with 300 per cent and higher margins for brands - this will hurt the small merchant or a merchant in a price-competitive business.

In the end, it will hurt you when that competitive merchant goes out of business. Many businesses servicing you only have margins of 10 per cent - some even less - on their goods.

If you take into account a nominal fee from the credit card company for a payment of HK$100 or less and the respective percentage service fee, it actually leaves the merchant you are using out of pocket.

The credit card companies do not care.

They make money on the transaction and it is left to the merchant to foot the bill.

Why are the credit card companies and issuers, that is, local banks, pushing so hard on this subject at the moment, hurting local merchants even more than the recession is hurting them already?

Could it be because of the poor recent figures the banks posted? Or the credit card companies, notably Amex's, profits being down substantially (more than 35 per cent) in their last quarterly report? Visa still posts profits of approx US$1.5 billion per year and Amex of approximately US$2.5 billion per year.

Are they unhappy that Octopus is taking away their assured revenue on small transactions?

What I would say to your readers is, please make up your mind yourself, but try to go out of your way to pay small merchants in cash, tip waiters in cash and understand that forcing travel agents to accept your credit cards at the extremely competitive, low-margin prices they are offering will make your next holiday that much more expensive.

Tobi Doeringer, Ap Lei Chau

What do you think of the maid levy suspension?

We keep reading stories in which foreign domestic helpers are reported as saying that they are underpaid.

They also argue that the Hong Kong government has 'stolen' HK$400 from them through the levy and that now the government has given employers a two-year break, this money should be handed over to them.

However, from articles I have read, it would appear that the only governments ripping off these maids are from their own country.

These governments impose all kinds of rules {minus} for example, that they have to use special intermediaries they have to pay.

Upon returning to their countries, some of these maids are forced to go through special immigration channels after which there is a 'special duty free shopping area' where they must shop to fill the pockets of some government cronies.

These are just two examples of how the maids are being ripped off by their own people.

So instead of throwing a tantrum and blaming the people and government of Hong Kong, I suggest that the domestic helpers spend some Sundays protesting at their consulates against being ripped off by their governments.

Jeffry Kuperus, Clear Water Bay

Is there anybody who can teach the Immigration Department how to handle the cases of helpers renewing their contracts with the same employer?

My helper from Tsim Sha Tsui takes the first train at 6am to arrive at the Immigration Department in Wan Chai at 6.20am, and comes back at 10am every day with the same story {minus} the quota for the day is filled as maids have been queuing during the night.

Why can't the department issue appointments for the coming 10 to 15 days, instead of telling the maids every day to come the next day? I think it needs a little common sense which some government departments do not have.

Gary Ahuja, Tsim Sha Tsui

Do our old streets need more protection?

There has been a great deal of public debate over whether or not we should be preserving Hong Kong's old streets.

I can understand there are some people who feel that these old thoroughfares are a nuisance and hinder the modernisation of Hong Kong. It is argued that they take up a lot of land.

Many land developers would argue that only by replacing these old streets can we ensure that Hong Kong is a truly modern city. This may seem a reasonable point of view, but I disagree.

Old streets tell us something of our precious history and show us the way in which Hong Kong has developed and changed over the decades. These old streets are part of our historical heritage.

They are appreciated by tourists who love to explore them. It gives them a clearer idea of the city's culture.

Instead of replacing them, the government should be trying to give them greater protection. We should see them as a valuable part of Hong Kong.

If there are structural problems with some buildings, then officials should deal with them.

I hope the administration will finally wake up to its responsibilities and spare no effort to save these streets.

J. Y. Wong, Fanling

How can outdoor workers be protected from heatstroke?

With a number of days passing the 30 degrees Celsius mark and the very hot weather warning being issued, people are becoming more aware now of the threat to outdoor workers. Unions have urged the government to treat heatstroke as an occupational disease. I agree that the rights of outdoor workers must be protected.

For example, medical staff are allowed to seek compensation from employers if they contract a disease in the course of their work.

It is nonsense to reject outdoor workers' calls that they should be allowed to seek compensation if they fall ill from the heat. In order to protect the rights of outdoor workers, the law should be revised.

Working outdoors when it is very hot can be dangerous. Therefore, their working times should be adjusted to avoid heatstroke.

For example, bosses might ask workers to start earlier, say at 8am when it is not so hot, and take a rest from noon to 3pm when it is very hot.

They could then finish work a little later than usual. This would provide a safer working environment. Workers and employers would both benefit.

Lui Na-chun, Wong Tai Sin

On other matters...

My domestic helper obtained a cellular telephone account with PCCW Mobile, but the coverage at our home fluctuates from poor to nil.

When she asked them to release her from the contract so that she could change to another operator, they insisted on charging an early termination fee.

We complained to telecoms watchdog Ofta, but it would not help. How can a telecom operator be permitted to charge such a fee after it failed to provide the service advertised?

Vince Pinto, Lam Tin