Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2010, 12:00am

Stop these shameful scare tactics

For months now we've watched the shameful spectacle of business-friendly politicians conniving with big business to spread scare stories of economic doom if workers are paid a liveable minimum wage. What are they saying? That Hong Kong's economic miracle is a mirage built on slave wages? Are they saying we can only be a global financial centre, a shopper's paradise, and a so-called world city if we mistreat our workers? When catering sector legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan insisted workers should only be paid HK$20 an hour was he saying Hong Kong's boast of being a food capital is based on sweat labour? Do we then really want to trumpet to the world our dining experience? Public Eye is fed up with the business lobby's scare tactics. It has long cherry-picked overseas data to warn of economic Armageddon if workers are paid a decent wage. Our government hides behind terms such as 'striking a balance' between what the workers say is a liveable wage and what the bosses want to pay. Labour chief Matthew Cheung Kin-chung says the government has an 'open mind' on the matter. Open mind? He's the secretary for labour, for goodness sake, not the secretary for big business. He knows how much a person needs to survive in Hong Kong. The government spends plenty of public money to research such things. But if even he won't say workers deserve a dignified wage, then who in government will?

The real culprits of high business costs

Business groups and their Legco allies frequently aim their firepower at a minimum wage workers can live on. But they never turn their guns on the real culprits of high business costs in Hong Kong - the landlords. Taking on the landlords is like attacking one of their own. That's why they never do it. Tommy Cheung knows very well the biggest overhead of a restaurant is the rent, not wages. High rents are shutting down restaurants all the time. High salaries are not. So why isn't Cheung lambasting the landlords instead? The phony argument business groups make against a liveable minimum wage is that bosses can't afford it. Many will go bankrupt or fire workers. Really? Trade unions want HK$33 an hour. That's about HK$8,500 a month working six days a week, 26 days a month. Business groups want to pay about HK$6,000. Is the difference of HK$2,500 really going to break the bank? If you have ten workers it's only going to cost you an extra HK$25,000 a month. How can that compare to the obscene shop rents landlords demand these days?

Just what do they mean by affordable homes?

There's no speculative bubble yet in Hong Kong's housing market. Homes are still affordable. That's the mantra of our officials. But what do they mean by affordable homes? Do they mean when families spend nearly half of their household income on mortgage payments? That's what's happening now. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said so himself just last week. In the past few months alone the ratio of mortgage payments to median household income has jumped from 38 per cent to 42 per cent. For every dollar you make 42 cents go straight into the pockets of the property developers and the banks. But what the heck, you still have 58 cents to feed the kids, pay the bills and save for the future.

We don't want to smell your filthy fumes

Taxi drivers are in a dark mood. They want to be excluded from the idling engine ban. They want you to smell their filthy fumes so they can sit in air-conditioned comfort. They're threatening to strike if the government doesn't bow to their demands. Go ahead, strike. Transport sector legislator Miriam Lau Kin-yee is on their side. She says her Liberal Party won't back the idling ban if taxis are included. Let's call her bluff too. If her party votes against the ban you'll know where it stands on cleaning up our filthy air.