Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am

Big profits when you pay slave wages

Here we go again - another doom-and-gloom warning from Cafe de Coral boss Michael Chan Yue-kwong. He's the meanie whose fast-food chain netted half a billion in profits last year but opposed even a modest minimum wage on the grounds that it would lower company earnings. When minimum-wage legislation became inevitable, he gave staff a paltry pay rise but negated it by cancelling paid meal breaks. Public ridicule shamed him into backtracking. Now Chan is at it again. He has grudgingly agreed to give staff paid meal breaks and rest days even though the minimum wage legislation does not require it. Let's get one thing straight - he's not doing it out of generosity but to avoid further ridicule. That was clear in his bitter tone on Sunday when he said he may have to issue a profit warning to shareholders. Let's look at the numbers again. A minimum wage of HK$28 an hour - hardly enough to buy a meal at Chan's restaurants - equals just HK$5,824 a month. Adding paid meal breaks and rest days takes the monthly wage to about HK$7,000. Bosses say that will bankrupt small and medium-sized businesses. But is Chan saying even big chains like Cafe de Coral cannot afford to pay HK$7,000 a month? Is our famed wealth based on an illusion? Or do people such as Chan see business success as high profits and slave wages? And how come they always threaten profit warnings because of a minimum wage and never because of exorbitant rents?

Cracking the code for inaction

Labour minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung is talking in code again. Our top officials love doing that. One of their favourites is 'strike a balance', which is code for not daring to show leadership. So they try to please everyone but end up pleasing no one. Cheung was in top code mode on Sunday when he said domestic helpers could get a pay rise but must wait for a 'detailed analysis and study' to determine by how much. A 'detailed analysis and study' is government code for stalling or inaction. Prices for just about everything have gone up. So why do our leaders need a 'detailed analysis and study' to decide if domestic helpers should be paid more? The answer is simple: without a study they can't stall. And if they don't stall, how can they say they need to 'strike a balance' between maids and their bosses?

Striking a balance is a dirty business

Don't just take Public Eye's word for it. If you want proof our bureaucrats love to talk in code, just look at the government's response to the ombudsman's finding that officials stalled in cleaning up our filthy air. Our bureaucrats ordered an air quality study in 2007, consulted the public in 2009, and have stalled ever since on adopting new standards. Why? Here's the government's explanation: 'The government needs to analyse in detail the different views collected and assess their impacts on the relevant policies in order to fully consider and co-ordinate the implementation of the recommended measures.' That's not even code, it's gobbledygook. Why don't officials just come out and say in plain language that they're still trying to strike a balance between clean air and dirty air?

Bribes to buy milk powder? What next?

Surely, you see the funny side of it? Our ICAC crusaders - whose baptism of fire was nailing high-ranking corrupt police officers - have nabbed 18 supermarket workers for tipping off mainland buyers about the availability of, er, baby milk power? OK, paid tip-offs on when best to shop for milk powder is, strictly speaking, selling insider information. The alleged crooks received up to HK$30 per can for arranging bulk sales to buyers for resale on the mainland. Our corruption-busters seized 1,000 cans. Mainland mothers must be thinking: we sure could use that. Don't get us wrong - the ICAC is doing a fine job in protecting us from milk-powder cheats. But we must be the only advanced society where people must offer bribes to buy milk powder. What next - salt, if there ever is another nuclear radiation scare?


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