Over 20 groups join boycott against Cafe de Coral in wage dispute
Cafe de Coral cleaner Mrs Lau, 62, has been making HK$22 an hour for 17 years and has pretty much accepted the stable income. Thanks to the fast food giant's answer to the minimum wage, her salary level will move - down.
Before the minimum wage law was passed in July, she said she hoped the law would allow her to buy more seafood for her family. There seems little chance of that now.
She is one of the company's 15,000 employees whose rights the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) is trying to defend. Their plan to boycott Cafe de Coral next week has gained support from 22 political, student and religious groups, with about 20,000 internet users saying they supported it.
Cafe de Coral, the city's largest fast food chain, has offered its staff a rise of between HK$2 and HK$3.50 on their hourly rates of between HK$22 and HK$25, on condition that they forfeit their right to up to 45 minutes of paid meal break a day.
But for those earning HK$22 an hour, like Mrs Lau, working eight hours a day and 26 days a month, monthly income would be HK$52 less if hourly pay is increased to HK$24 but the 45-minute paid meal time is lost.
On Tuesday, protesters will display banners and pass out leaflets and stickers to passers-by in front of the Cafe de Coral outlet in Central, urging them not to patronise the chain.
Lawmakers including Lee Cheuk-yan, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and Ronny Tong Ka-wah, and groups such as the Polytechnic University Student Union have signed the petition. Lee, the CTU's founder, said: 'We're worried that other industries will follow this wage structure by using legal loopholes. It's time to stand up against these tycoons. Hongkongers are angry.' He questioned the company's right to ask employees to sign consent forms and return them immediately, instead of giving them seven days to consider as required by Labour Department guidelines.
Suzanne Wu Sui-shan, organising secretary for the Catering and Hotels Industries Employees General Union, said the union would stage a protest at the chain's headquarters in Fo Tan tomorrow and hand in a boycott statement. The statement says the chain has grown in the city for 40 years, supported by working-class residents, but has forgotten its roots.
It says Cafe de Coral should immediately shelve the cancellation of the paid lunch break and raise hourly wages to not less than HK$33, to give employees a reasonable living.
The boycott will include outlets of Asia Pacific Catering, a subsidiary of Cafe de Coral on university campuses. The union is also trying to meet the Hospital Authority, serviced by the chain, to suggest contract terms that better defend employees' interests.
Ron Oswald, general secretary of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations, sent Cafe de Coral chairman Michael Chan Yue-kwong a letter calling on the firm to restore employees' paid meal breaks. It reads: 'We are outraged to learn that ... the company has eliminated paid lunch breaks, resulting in an overall reduction in wages.' Cafe de Coral did not reply to enquiries.
Up and down
Cafe de Coral's proposed pay rise would lead to a drop in employee income
Without their paid lunch break, some workers' monthly pay would drop, in Hong Kong dollars, by: $52