Wealth gap is widening, union group warns

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 5:25am

The benefits of the minimum wage are wearing off for the lowest-paid workers, a union group says.

This is shown by the fact that the lowest-paid had an average wage increase less than that of general workers - the reverse of 2011 when the statutory minimum wage law took effect - the Confederation of Trade Unions said yesterday.

Pay rises given to three in four such workers also did not keep up with inflation, the CTU said, releasing the results of a survey. This was worse than in 2011 when only three in five faced that problem, it said.

"The present situation is the opposite of that when the minimum wage was first implemented in 2011," CTU policy researcher Poon Man-hon said.

"Grass-roots workers had a higher wage increase than general employees at the time. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened again."

After interviewing 364 low-paid workers from January to March, the CTU found that 26 per cent had wage increases above the 3.6 per cent rise in consumer prices last year. Two-thirds experienced a pay freeze.

A similar survey last year focusing on 2011 found about 40 per cent of grass-roots workers' wages kept up with inflation while a third had a pay freeze.

The CTU called for a collective bargaining law to give workers more bargaining power on their wages, and annual reviews for the minimum wage instead of once every two years.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the median real increase in the pay of general workers was 1.3 per cent. But the bottom 10 per cent saw a growth of 7 per cent in their pay because of the minimum wage, according to government figures.

In the same period last year, the general increase was 4.4 per cent while for the grass roots, it was just 2.4 per cent.

Poon said this showed the effect of the minimum wage in narrowing the wealth gap had worn off.

The average increase for the low-paid last year was 2.5 per cent, the CTU said. Hutchison Whampoa group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning had a 5.3 per cent rise from 2011 to almost HK$180 million. Henderson Land Development chairman Lee Shau-kee's rise was 7.1 per cent.

The CTU's Labour Day rally this year will call for support for the striking dockers.