Leading by example

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 April, 2011, 12:00am


The minimum wage law that will come into effect next month does not require bosses to provide paid rest days and meal breaks. As a result, both labour and employer representatives are arguing over its implementation. The Employers' Federation of Hong Kong is blatantly encouraging employers to exploit existing legal loopholes to lower overheads by changing the payment calculations to exclude meal hours and days off and reducing workers' pay and welfare.

The Liberal Party, which claims to represent the business sector, held a forum for bosses of small and medium-sized enterprises to talk about how the wage law would hurt their businesses. As a result, it created a new wave of opposition against the minimum wage law.

The government outsources cleaning and security services to private companies and the contracts that have been awarded are not covered by the new minimum wage law. So, now, all eyes are on the administration to see whether it will take the lead to show the 'proper' way to implement the new policy.

Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung recently announced that all government outsourced contracts would cover paid rest days. Also, paid meal breaks were not mandatory and the government would compensate these outsourcing companies for the extra expenses as a result of the decisions.

Not all employers will follow the government's example; they will of course do their best to boost their profit margins. Staff pay is a major overhead and they need to tackle it to protect their profits.

The new wage law does not include paid rest days and meal times so as long as the hourly rate does not go below HK$28 or the total monthly pay is not less than the original monthly payment, the employer will not be deemed as violating the law. But those employers who deliberately change staff contracts from monthly to hourly wages in a bid to reduce costs definitely cross the line and should be condemned.

The government should be praised for employing extraordinary measures in extraordinary circumstances by compensating outsourcing companies for the additional expenses brought about by the new government guidelines. These employers should be grateful, but instead they are demanding the government subsidise them in other areas such as the extra costs in labour insurance and for long service payments. How ridiculous!

It's true that these outsourcing companies did not budget for the extra costs of the new wage law when they submitted tenders for government contracts a long time ago and therefore should not be forced to absorb these unexpected expenses. But, in future contracts, these extra costs will be included, and thus these companies will have no reason to demand the government subsidise them then.

The minimum wage law is a reality. Those who insist on denying this fact of life by arguing that the law will create unemployment and reduce the employability of older and disabled workers are bending the truth and being unreasonable.

Honestly speaking, many companies have hired disabled workers only to project a better corporate image rather than giving these people opportunities because, very often, these employees are paid below-market rates.

Now with the wage law imminent, some employers have said that if they have to pay disabled workers the same rates as abled workers, they will prefer not to use them. Consequently, there are now suggestions to introduce an evaluation system to protect disabled workers' right to work.

Fast food giant McDonald's said it would implement equal pay for all employees while local fast food chains - Cafe de Coral and Fairwood - said their staff would continue to enjoy paid rest days, meals and lunch breaks. These are all good examples to follow. Those ruthless bosses, who still insist that disabled workers are not entitled to equal pay, are depriving the underprivileged of their right to work, and hence their right to a reasonable level of living.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator