Poor benefit from minimum wage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 March, 2012, 12:00am


The minimum wage has had a big effect on pay of the poorest workers, new government figures show, and labour groups say the findings support their case for raising the wage floor from HK$28 per hour.

The Census and Statistics Department says the median monthly income of Hongkongers in the bottom 10 per cent of earners was 17.7 per cent higher in May and June last year - the two months immediately after the minimum wage came into force - than in the second quarter of 2010.

Median monthly income for all Hongkongers rose from HK$11,800 in the second quarter of 2010 to HK$12,800.

It says continued economic growth and the wage floor have boosted income levels. 'We can see an increase across all levels of income groups,' Agnes Lo Kit-mui, assistant commissioner, said yesterday.

Unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said that with inflation still high and the global economic outlook remaining uncertain, the government should consider increasing the minimum wage to HK$33 an hour.

Lee, general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said he was pleased that the law meant workers were making more money. 'At least their ability to make ends meet and their ability to care for their families is better now,' he said.

Economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu said rising wages, coupled with high inflation during the past two years, meant that the minimum wage should rise to at least HK$30 an hour.

The Minimum Wage Commission set the wage floor in October 2010 and is due to review the level every two years. It is expected to begin consultation later this year on whether to make an adjustment.

Its members, who include academics, government officials and representatives of the labour and business sectors, received a presentation on the wages survey yesterday.

Asked whether the department would urge the commission to increase the minimum wage, Lo said wages were 'only one of the many factors' the commission would have to take into account. Its remit also includes studying the economic situation and assessing the impact on businesses.

When the HK$28 level was set it represented 47.9 per cent of the median income of HK$58.50 per hour. That had climbed to HK$65.90 by the time of the survey last year.

Controversy continues over the issue of whether employers should provide paid lunch hours and holidays. The legislation left the decision with employers, leading to claims that workers' terms and conditions were changed, leaving them with lower wages than they expected after the introduction of the wage floor.

The survey found that 426,600 workers, 16.3 per cent of the total, were not receiving paid days off and holidays. It also found that, while the lowest paid 10 per cent of employees were receiving an average hourly wage of HK$33.40 an hour, this would drop to HK$29.30 per hour if the effect of paid holidays and lunch hours was stripped out.




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