March of the minimum wage victims
Elaine Yau, Martin Wong and Amy Nip
Thousands of people marched across Kowloon and Hong Kong Island on Labour Day yesterday in protest, ironically, at the new minimum wage law.
The marchers included workers who had been laid off recently due to the introduction of the law, which took effect yesterday.
Others told how their employers had shortened their working week to offset the increase in labour costs.
Lee Cheuk-yan, the labour lawmaker, said complaints about various measures adopted by employers to offset the statutory wage increases had become increasingly common.
'Contracts are changed so that paid rest days and lunch breaks are abolished,' he said. 'Workers lack bargaining power. That's why there should be the right to collective bargaining.'
Waving placards, singing and chanting slogans, protesters called for a range of better working conditions, as well as the right to collective bargaining, paid lunch breaks and rest days, and the yearly review of the minimum wage law. The rising cost of rent and the effect of inflation on food prices were also targeted.
Unions from all walks of life were out in force, representing taxi drivers, bus drivers, beauticians, construction workers and domestic helpers, among others.
More than 3,000 people marched from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the government headquarters in Central in a protest organised by the Confederation of Trade Unions.
About 2,000 joined the Federation of Trade Unions' protest, marching from Maple Street Recreation Ground in Sham Shui Po to Public Square Street in Yau Ma Tei.
Warehouse worker Chan Ka-wai, 19, was sacked last month by a transport company. 'As the company has to increase wages, they fired all the workers with the least experience,' he said.
Lau Yiu-ming, one of around 100 government outsourced managers joining the protest yesterday, said their pay was lower than that of their subordinates after the implementation of the minimum wage law.
He is overseeing cleaning staff whose pay rose from HK$5,400 to HK$6,944. However, he and his colleagues' pay, ranging from HK$6,500 to HK$7,000, remained the same.
'The cleaning staff get paid rest days now, but we don't,' he said. 'The government said our pay couldn't be increased as we are classified as technical staff. How can we supervise people whose pay is similar or higher than ours?'
The Hong Kong Journalists Association was also out calling for better work conditions.
They released results of a survey which showed that over 30 per cent of journalists want to quit within the next two years due to low pay. Some 398 reporters were interviewed, with 41 per cent of them earning HK$15,000 or less.
Dismissing concerns that minimum wage requirements would increase the jobless rate, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung warned yesterday that the government would step up inspections to ensure employers were complying with the law.
While about 280,000 workers are expected to benefit from the minimum wage, set at HK$28 an hour, it is likely that those increases will be passed on to consumers.
People living in small private estates are expected to see higher management fees, as security guards are among the city's lowest-paid.
The Hong Kong Owners Club, which helps property owners settle lease disputes with tenants, have found that many single, private residential buildings will be affected.
'Many of these residents have said they have to pay about 30 per cent more for the management fee. Some said they were even asked to pay 40 per cent more,' chairman Shea Hing-wan said.
Last month, residents in Fu Tor Loy Sun Chuen, Tai Kok Tsui, were told that the monthly management fee had to be raised from HK$450 to HK$630 due to the increase in wages for security guards and cleaners.
Residents of large private housing estates will not feel the rise in staff wages so much as there are more households to share the burden of higher costs.
For City One Shatin, a massive estate with more than 12,500 apartments, the management fee has remained the same for many years, ranging form HK$670 to HK$969 a month, depending on the size of the flat.
Homeowners are up in arms at Yue On Court, Ap Lei Chau, after the management said it was raising its monthly charges despite an earlier reassurance that residents would not be affected by the minimum wage law.
In other residential buildings, residents have preferred to have the hours of their security guards reduced rather than pay the higher management bills.
Restaurant bills may also go up, as it is another industry filled with traditionally low-paid jobs.
McDonald's has increased its prices in its outlets across the city. For a filet-o-fish meal that was sold in its Tin Shui Wai outlet, the new price is HK$25.80, a rise of 8.4 per cent. Its prices have always varied from one district to another in the city.
A McDonald's spokeswoman said the chain had gradually adjusted restaurant staff's starting rate to HK$28 per hour.
Cafe de Coral increased its food prices by 3 per cent in its 150 outlets in January, following an increase in December last year. The chain noted that the increases were not only caused by the minimum wage but also increasing food prices.
Other chains, including Maxim's and KFC, said they would be abiding by the minimum wage law but would not comment on any increase in their menu prices.