More disputes predicted with minimum wage law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2011, 12:00am


More disputes between bosses and workers over pay issues are expected with the minimum wage law about to go into force.

Academics say arguments are likely to be more frequent after enforcement of the new labour law from May 1, as the city does not have standard working hours or established communication channels between employers and employees.

'In a way, we could foresee the present scenario right after the minimum wage legislation was passed last year,' said Dr Wong Hung, an assistant professor of social work at Chinese University.

Wong said the absence of laws covering paid meal breaks and rest days under the minimum wage law guaranteed there would be disputes.

Labour minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has repeatedly urged employers not to reduce employees' existing remuneration and employment benefits after implementation of the wage floor.

But he admitted that neither the Minimum Wage Ordinance nor the Employment Ordinance stipulated that meal breaks and rest days should be paid.

Wong said: 'When a minimum wage was the talk of the town last year before its legislation, everyone only argued about the level.'

He said that with no standard working hours and wages calculated monthly, 'workers do not know or care if rest days and meal breaks are paid under their contracts - they only care about the monthly salary.

'But now the minimum wage is calculated hourly so workers and employers have to look at the issue.'

Dr Chung Kim-wah, an assistant professor of applied social sciences at Polytechnic University, agreed.

'It is only natural there will be disputes over paid meal breaks and rest days since it is something new and there is no law governing the matter,' he said.

'Workers want as much as possible, employers want to pay as little as possible.'

The issue is more complicated, as unlike other countries, Hong Kong does not have strong labour unions and well-established channels between unions and employers.

Wong said: 'In other places, both sides will sit down to sort things out. We do not have such communication. Our unions are very weak in mobilising labour to fight for their rights so we really do not see any major labour action.'

The city also did not have a strong employers group.

Both academics said that more disputes would occur because the government refused to take the lead in settling issues.

'Without any law, there is no way the matter will be sorted out by workers and employers on their own,' Wong said.

Chung said there would be more labour protests and possibly court cases over payment issues.

'I strongly believe at the end of the day, the matter can only be solved by legislating on whether meal breaks and rest days should be paid or not.'

Pressure on workers under new legislation

Cleaning workers in old blocks fired or forced to work fewer hours. Security guards told to do their duties.

New City Property Management sacks, rehires 200 security guards to reduce future long-service payments.

Tour guides forced to work part-time so they are paid less in non-peak season.

Japan Home Centre chain workers told not to have lunch in stores so the company does not have to pay meal breaks. Workers say this is impractical due to limited manpower.

Half of the city's 180 internet cafes say they will be forced to close due to the minimum wage law and proposed rules barring them from operating in residential buildings and banning people under 16 after midnight.

Workers at the Tsui Wah restaurant chain sign contracts giving them paid meal breaks but unpaid rest days.