Politicians do the maths ahead of law on low pay
Fanny W. Y. Fung
Political parties and elected public office bearers who do not want to break the law are busy doing calculations as the May 1 enforcement of the minimum wage law nears.
Some staff at the offices of parties and District Council members are paid at hourly rates that will fall below the statutory HK$28 if meal hours and rest days are paid.
Their employers say they would rather pay their staff more to ensure compliance with the new law than try to get around the new rules, as some companies have done amid intense public criticism.
'We ourselves support the minimum-wage legislation. We can't violate the law,' said Democratic Party chief executive Chan Ka-wai. 'We at the headquarters have been very busy these two or three weeks, dedicating all our time to reviewing staff remuneration.'
The party estimates that more than 20 employees working at its headquarters, for legislative councillors and for district councillors - 15 to 20 per cent of all of its staff - will get a pay rise.
While most staff are paid monthly, Chan said some had hourly rates between HK$25 and HK$28 if paid meal breaks and holidays were included. Most were in junior positions, including some clerical jobs.
For example, one Democrat district councillor, whom Chan declined to name, was paying a full-time assistant who worked 44 hours a week a monthly salary of HK$6,500. The salary would have to be raised to HK$7,700 next month, Chan said.
Like some businesses, the party is finding the calculations complicated.
As the number of working days in each month differs, Chan said the party had instructed its members to adopt the highest standard, using last month, with 31 calendar days and no public holidays, as a basis for monthly salary calculation.
The Democrats' main rival, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, is also looking at staff salaries.
Party spokesman Thomas Pang Cheung-wai said his party had issued a notice to all its branches, asking members to examine staff contracts to ensure no one's wages fell below the statutory requirement.
'So far we have not heard of any such case,' Pang said. 'I believe our party shouldn't have problem complying with the minimum wage law... The party normally pays entry-level staff a monthly salary of more than HK$10,000. Each district councillor decides the remuneration for his or her own staff and we don't have a special guideline for them.'
Independent Tuen Mun district councillor So Shiu-shing said that after his two assistants made inquiries at the Labour Department, he found that he should offer them pay rises of between HK$492 and HK$879 so that their hourly rates would not fall below HK$28 including meal hours and rest days.
'I don't want to be called a heartless employer. How can I stand in elections if I am given that name?'
Kwai Tsing district councillor Chow Yick-hay said the minimum wage law would have a big impact on many of his colleagues.
The Democrat said most district councillors' assistants were paid HK$8,000 to HK$9,000 a month, while quite a number were also paid at lower levels to do manual work such as sticking up publicity posters.
'Many district councillors hire temporary part-time workers at HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 a month. It can be a headache for them. As public office bearers, we will be in trouble if people call us heartless employers.'
Former labour sector lawmaker Kwong Chi-kin, the legal adviser to the Councillors' Workers Association, was surprised to hear some full-time assistants to district councillors earned less than the minimum wage.
'When we fought for a minimum wage what we had in mind was to help people like cleaners. After all, district councillors' assistants are mostly white-collar workers, usually with secondary education.'
He said the association had not received complaints or inquiries from members about possible breaches of the new law.