Five sacked masseuses have won $205,000 in a High Court ruling after fighting for four years to get their tips back from their former employer.
Unions believe the ruling has given new meaning to the term 'wages' and sets clear guidelines for pay disputes, particularly in service industries.
The judgment, delivered by Mr Justice Andrew Chung, found tips that were 'habitual and closely connected to the business' and employment should be recognised as part of wages.
The basic salary of a masseuse was $46 for each 45-minute session. On average, they earned about $30,000 a month, of which $6,000 to $7,000 was basic salary. Tips represented up to 80 per cent of their income.
The five masseuses were employed by Rebecca Ho Wai-ling at the Windsor Sauna in Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay. Unlike 50 other masseuses dismissed by Ms Ho in 1995, the five were awarded legal aid to clarify the definition of 'tips'.
Led by plaintiff Li Shuk-man, the five refused to accept Ms Ho's settlement - wages in lieu of notice, severance pay and annual leave pay - last year. They insisted that tips paid by the sauna establishment should be part of their wages in the calculation of the claim.
The judgment was delivered on May 26 but the masseuses only disclosed the findings yesterday.
Carol Chan Im-mui, of the Personal Services Workers' General Union, said the masseuses were very happy.
Chan Wing-chan, chairman of the Eating Establishment Employees' General Union, welcomed the judgment. And Steven Wan Sung-kwong, general secretary of the Chinese and Western Food Workers' Union, expected other courts to follow the ruling.