Guard on HK$13 an hour afraid to lodge complaint
The minimum wage law may have been in force for almost a year, but it has been of little benefit to a 78-year-old security guard who gets just HK$13.20 an hour.
The guard, identified only as John, is among thousands of workers who are accepting less than the stipulated HK$28 an hour minimum wage because they fear being sacked if they complain, social workers say.
The Society for Community Organisation, which estimates there are 10,000 workers in this situation, wants the government to pay a stipend to anyone dismissed after filing a complaint, to be repaid out of any compensation they receive.
'The minimum wage has in general helped, but not so much those who are older and people who are less competitive in the job market,' Soco organiser Ng Wai-tung said yesterday.
'A lot of victims who do not receive HK$28 per hour are afraid of losing their jobs after lodging a complaint to the Labour Tribunal, and worry about not having enough money to support themselves during the [hearing] period.'
John, who refuses to disclose his real name because of fears he may lose his job, works 12 hours a day, seven days a week as a nightshift guard at a single-block Kowloon building.
'I have no choice. I'm old. No one else will employ me,' he said clad in a red blazer and wearing a face mask to avoid recognition.
Now on HK$4,750 a month, he received a HK$500 pay increase under his new one-year contract on May 1 last year and says his employer told him that he could not pay the minimum wage, which took effect on that date.
John said two colleagues were paid close to HK$25 an hour, still less than the legal wage floor.
To save money he lives in a staircase of the building where he works and survives on HK$35 a day.
The rest of his income goes to a mainland relative who has cancer.
Ng said that if the government paid a stipend to workers who lost their jobs after complaining, it would encourage them to come forward. The money could be recovered from the compensation.
John, who is thinking of quitting, said he would definitely seek compensation after his 22-year-old daughter graduated from university.
The Labour Department said that by March this year it had carried out 33,000 inspections and 101 cases had been found where employees felt they were underpaid.
Ten employers had been prosecuted.