Universities drawn into Cafe de Coral pay row

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 November, 2010, 12:00am

A union is stepping up its campaign for a boycott of Cafe de Coral by asking universities and other public bodies which hire the chain as a catering manager to apply pressure on the company to revoke a new wage structure.

The Catering and Hotels Industries Employees' General Union says the new system denies money to staff by using legal loopholes.

The union appealed to representatives from the University of Hong Kong yesterday to press Cafe de Coral, which runs three outlets on the Pok Fu Lam campus and employs a total of around 160 staff, to shelve the new pay structure. Two of the outlets are run by Asia Pacific Catering, a subsidiary of Cafe de Coral and the third is Oliver's Super Sandwiches, also under Cafe de Coral.

The listed company, which has operated in the city for 40 years, said last month it would offer staff a rise of HK$2 to HK$3.50 on their hourly rate of HK$22 to HK$25, on condition that they forfeit their right to a daily paid meal break of up to 45 minutes.

Albert Chau, dean of student affairs with HKU, said it would apply the maximum pressure on the chain within contractual provisions. It would consider adding income protection mechanisms in future catering contracts, he said.

He said the university would have a meeting with Cafe de Coral to discuss the issue and the union would get a reply within three weeks. 'We have to check the exact salary of each employee and how the new pay structure will affect them first.'

The union, a member of the Confederation of Trade Unions, will later meet with representatives of the Polytechnic University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Hospital Authority.

The union has so far signed up around 30 organisations - including religious groups and student and workers' groups - for a boycott of the city's largest fast-food chain on Tuesday.

Suzanne Wu Sui-shan, organising secretary for the union, said she is disappointed by the 'slow response' of HKU.

'With the issue brewing for so long, they still said at the meeting that they have to get further information on contracts.

'They don't have sufficient sensitivity to labour protection. If the chain was involved in a case of food poisoning just once on campus, I am sure they would have reacted in a much stronger manner and would have kicked it out already,' Wu said.

The union wants Cafe de Coral to immediately reinstate paid lunch breaks and raise the hourly wage to not less than HK$33.