Hong Kong hotels accused of not paying minimum wage in job 'trial periods'

Union says survey shows bosses are forcing room cleaners to work for 'trial periods' for low pay

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 3:47am

Hotel bosses are dodging the minimum-wage law by forcing room cleaners to work for "trial periods" for low pay rates and without overtime compensation, according to a union survey.

The Catering and Hotels Industries Employees' General Union found after interviewing 246 room attendants from about 30 hotels in June that 25 workers were receiving less than the statutory minimum wage of HK$28 an hour.

Some said they were exploited under a work "trial period" in the first two to three weeks of a new job, often earning as little as HK$5 an hour. Hotels were also accused of practices which cheated employees of their benefits.

"We don't think this problem is restricted to individual hotels - it's industry-wide," said the union's organising secretary Suzanne Wu Sui-shan.

She said some workers who experienced these practices worked for large hotel chains, which they did not name to protect other employees.

The union found that one of the hotels, owned by a tycoon, kept employing workers on a trial basis and did not offer them permanent jobs.

"It's not that they cannot afford to pay, they are explicitly exploiting workers," Wu said. She said the problem had been around for a long time, but after implementation of the minimum-wage legislation in May last year, these employers could now be breaking the law.

She urged them to stop the practice.

Under the Employment Ordinance, employers could dismiss workers without notice during a probation period, but this did not entitle them to use a work "trial period" for pay, Wu said.

In one case, a worker undergoing a work "trial period" worked eight hours a day, cleaning up to 17 rooms, and was paid HK$56.

Other room attendants earning less than the minimum wage were usually paid according to the number of rooms they cleaned.

They were assigned a certain number of rooms each day and if it took them longer than eight hours they had to work overtime without compensation.

The survey found that 70 per cent of those interviewed were casual workers who did not have benefits such as medical insurance. More than half said some workers in their hotels were hired on a three weeks on, one week off basis so employers did not have to give them benefits such as paid annual leave.

Employees working for four consecutive weeks for not less than 18 hours are entitled to these benefits.

Wu said that most of the workers were not willing to complain to the Labour Department as they were afraid they would be recognised and unable to find work in the industry again.

Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners executive director Michael Li Hon-shing said a survey the federation conducted among its members last year showed that all hotel employers were meeting minimum wage requirements.