Cafe de Coral backs down in pay battle

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 November, 2010, 12:00am

Fast-food chain Cafe de Coral ditched a plan to deprive staff of paid meal times, heading off a major boycott of its restaurants.

Trade unions hailed yesterday's turnaround as a victory after weeks of protests and pledged to continue monitoring other enterprises.

The fast-food giant had originally offered to raise hourly pay for its 3,000 frontline staff in line with the implementation of the minimum wage law, but it cancelled paid lunch breaks, resulting in lower pay in some cases.

Despite later promising that no wages would be reduced as a result, it came under intense pressure from unions and internet users over the week, bashing what opponents of the move said was the exploitation of 'legal loopholes'.

The company said it took the decision to drop the plan to 'alleviate public doubt' and 'for the purpose of social harmony'.

'Although acceptance of such an offer has been duly signed off by most of the employees, the group acknowledges that certain organisations and members of the public have viewed the matter to the contrary,' a spokesman said. 'To alleviate public doubt and for the purpose of social harmony, the group decided the above-mentioned arrangement of excluding the meal time from the normal working hours is to be withdrawn with immediate effect.'

Last month Cafe de Coral offered its staff a rise of between HK$2 and HK$3.50 in their hourly rates of HK$22 to HK$25, on condition that they forfeited their right to up to 45 minutes of paid meal break a day.

The pay rise would remain intact. Under the new plan a staff member would make about HK$500 more a month, instead of losing HK$16. Labour minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung welcomed the move. 'It's good for enterprises to be more mindful of employees' well-being which will help foster harmonious labour relations,' he said.

Suzanne Wu Sui-shan of the Catering and Hotels Industries Employees' General Union, said a planned boycott of Cafe De Coral restaurants would be cancelled.

'It's the first victory won by trade unions since the minimum wage law was passed. It's only a start. We'll continue to monitor other enterprises and defend workers' rights.'

Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, lawmaker for the catering sector, urged the public to understand the impact of the minimum wage. He said if the minimum wage was set at HK$28, at least 30 per cent of employees in the industry - 62,400 people - would have a pay rise, which would place a heavy burden on bosses.