Hong Kong is only hours away from finally having a minimum wage bill that will protect the city's poorest paid workers after years of lobbying and debate. But what will be the impact on people? Lawmakers are due to pass the bill today or tomorrow, yet workers will have to wait a number of months to enjoy any benefits. The Provisional Minimum Wage Commission will announce the city's first minimum wage level before the end of the summer break, but it will come into force only in the first half of next year. While the all-important figure has yet to be announced, labour unions have demanded that the minimum hourly rate should be no less than HK$33. But employers' groups claim that business in Hong Kong in sustainable only if the rate is set at between HK$24 and HK$25. The median hourly wage of city workers is HK$58.50. Calculations based on figures from the Census and Statistics Department show a statutory minimum wage of HK$33 an hour - benefiting 469,400 people, or 16.9 per cent, of the city's 2.78 million workers - would cost HK$8.17 billion a year. A minimum wage of HK$25 would cost about HK$1.1 billion a year. Hong Kong's gross domestic product last year was HK$1.63 trillion. Regardless of the amount decided, these low-paid workers - most working in the estate management, security, cleaning services and catering industries will have to wait to receive any pay rise until some time in the first half of next year. To employers - assuming that all 439,000 workers that earn less than HK$33 an hour work 26 days a month - the pay increase will cost them an extra HK$681 million per month. At HK$25, the extra cost would be HK$92.2 million a month, with 130,200 workers getting a pay rise. Employers who fail to offer the minimum wage will face a maximum fine of HK$350,000 and three years' jail - the same as the punishment for underpayment of wages and a range of other criminal labour offences. Employers' groups have warned lawmakers repeatedly that businesses would be hit by a 'ripple effect', which would push up wages of workers already earning more than the minimum amount and that a high minimum wage might cause shops and restaurants to fold. Yet the example of Britain, which introduced a legally binding minimum wage in 1999, showed that the resulting ripple effect was limited. Professor Geoff White, an adviser to Britain's Low Pay Commission, said a predication - that workers receiving a pay rise above the minimum level would try to maintain the existing difference in wages over people paid less than them - was unfounded. City University political scientist Joseph Cheng Yu-shek said any impact a minimum wage of even HK$33 had on the economy would be negligible. 'With the establishment of a minimum wage, the wage rise would be citywide; the burden would shift to all the population. Shops and restaurants can increase prices, and Hong Kong people will be willing to pay a little bit more, knowing decent wages must be paid,' he said. But how much is a 'little bit more'? James Wong, the owner of four noodle shops, said that if the minimum wage was raised to HK$33, he would increase the price of his HK$11 dishes to HK$15.