HK$11,000 income limit for overtime pay will be reviewed, Hong Kong’s chief secretary says

Matthew Cheung holds out hope that threshold could be raised before the proposal, if endorsed by lawmakers, is implemented by 2020

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 10:56pm

The HK$11,000 monthly income threshold qualifying workers for overtime pay will be reviewed before it is implemented, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung pledged as unionists vowed to boycott the plan.

Cheung, formerly labour and welfare chief, was responding to the backlash against the plan, which makes it mandatory for bosses to pay workers overtime wages at rates no less than their regular salaries only if they make HK$11,000 or less a month.

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The proposed regulatory regime also does not apply to workers who are not covered by the Minimum Wage Ordinance or the Employment Ordinance. This means domestic workers and student interns will not be protected.

“This is a breakthrough and a prudent starting point,” Cheung said on Wednesday. “Of course there is a fairly huge gap between [the proposal] and the trade unions’ call ... but we also need to consider the employer’s ability to absorb [the cost].”

The No 2 official added the government would review the situation to see whether the salary threshold could be raised before the proposal, if endorsed by lawmakers, was implemented by 2020.

But trade unions – even from the pro-establishment bloc – have pledged to boycott what they call a “meaningless” proposal as they fear it will do more harm than good.

“Employers might now state it clearly in a contract that their employees would need to work 10 hours per day. There would never be any overtime payment,” lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin of the Federation of Trade Unions said.

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“It is meaningless to table such a plan in the legislature and I would rather ignore it and work it out with Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor instead,” he added, referring to the incoming leader who will take over as the city’s chief executive on July 1.

Wong however admitted Lam had not been too keen on the issue during their earlier exchanges.

Wong’s party colleague, Michael Luk Chung-hung, said officials had missed the point.

“Setting contractual working hours would only legalise the long working hours ... It is a matter of principle but not about whether the threshold is too low or not,” he said.

While the Federation of Trade Unions has pledged to block the plan should it be put to a vote, its honorary president, executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong, raised eyebrows on Wednesday by backing it.

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Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said his party would oppose the proposal, which he said was “not progression but a regression”.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said it was unfair and discriminatory that domestic workers were not covered by the proposal.

“This just proves that the government is promoting slavery in Hong Kong. We have already been excluded from the Minimum Wage Ordinance and now we are excluded again,” Villanueva said.

“The government is just going against the international norm.”

However, the pro-business Liberal Party gave its support to the policy. Its chairman, Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, also an executive councillor, said his party did not have many issues with the plan.

Carrie Lam’s spokesman said the chief executive-elect had no comment on any policies of the incumbent administration.

Additional reporting by Phila Siu