Rights flouted in cleaning wage row

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 3:09am

The government has refused to compensate its cleaning contractors for the increased minimum wage ("1,000 cleaners protest over pay fears", July 4).

The workers understandably fear staff cuts.

This worsens the most reprehensible of many breaches of the Basic Law guarantee (Article 100) of continued employment for existing civil servants after 1997 - including pay and conditions of service no less favourable than before - which was the outsourcing of the jobs of the lowest-paid, such as cleaners and security guards.

Their pay between 1997 and 2003 was roughly HK$8,000 a month. As an approximate indicator of pie-share for the contractors, the cleaners' 2013 pay based on a 40-hour week and the minimum wage of HK$30 an hour would be HK$4,800 a month (before downward adjustment for inflation).

The legal basis of this callous robbery was a 1998 court decision (unfortunately not appealed) in which the judge pronounced that Article 100 does not prevent "measures for the good governance of Hong Kong".

The pre-1997 government's policy was to set a good example to help counter private-sector exploitation of poorly paid workers.

The post-colonial government introduced an elitist globally fashionable free-market agenda, effectively deregulating such social responsibility, as there was, out of Hong Kong capitalism.

This included feeding public money to chancers and exploiters, such as converting the permanent jobs of its lowest-paid workers into cheap contract jobs. They were yet more powerless victims of bad things so taken for granted that not even a plain constitutional right deterred the "more market" ideologues from wealth redistribution by taking from poor Peter for the welfare of rich Paul.

The outsourcing contracts had no condition that the workers retain their civil service pay and conditions.

About 80 per cent have been awarded to the lowest bidders, creating further downward pressure on wages.

The staff had only their labour for essential menial work to sell, a weak union movement, and no staff association willing or able to fight for them in court against this illegality and injustice.

Hong Kong social mobility remains ever more firmly the fabulously rich getting fabulously richer, while the lowly on the socio-economic ladder are pushed lower.

Michael Scott, Tsim Sha Tsui