The minimum wage should be maintained at HK$28 per hour next year, the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce urged yesterday.
The call came as the city experienced its first increase in the number of jobless for six months - edging up 0.1 per cent from a 13-year low - and a warning that a recession could force the wage floor to be lowered.
The Minimum Wage Commission met representatives of four major business chambers and three labour unions to discuss whether and how the minimum wage, which came into force in May, should be adjusted. The rate has to be reviewed at least once every two years by law.
Speaking after the meeting, David Fong Man-hung, vice-chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, said it urged the government not to adjust the rate 'too soon' as the territory's annual economic growth may slow down to 4 per cent.
'In the 70s, there was high inflation all over the world. Workers pressed for pay rises, which made inflation accelerate. When inflation went up, the pursuit went on. Endless pursuit is unfavourable to Hong Kong's long-term economy,' he said.
Stanley Lau Chin-ho, deputy chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, agreed. He said it was not necessary to review the minimum wage soon and expressed fears that some businesses might immediately raise their prices if the rate went up to HK$33 an hour next year as demanded by labour unions.
David Wong Yau-kar, president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association, said: 'We hold an open attitude. But we should study the figures carefully before deciding the next step.'
Mung Siu-tat, chief executive of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said inflation had forced up rents and the costs of imported raw materials. 'Workers should not be the scapegoat and have their pay be suppressed,' he added.
Meanwhile, City University economist Dr Li Kui-wai said the minimum wage might have to be lowered if the city experiences a recession, forcing people out of work.
The commission is expected to make its recommendations to the government on the next minimum wage level late next year.
Government figures released yesterday showed that the city's unemployment rate between August and October rose to 3.3 per cent, from 3.2 per cent for the previous three-month period.