My Take

Hong Kong's poor haven't a chance with Financial Secretary John Tsang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 1:40am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2015, 1:40am

HK$12,000 a month is overpaid for a dishwasher? Our financial secretary who gets pay and perks that easily hit half a million a month should talk!

John Tsang Chun-wah must have been drinking too much of his beloved wines and spirits when he complained low-skilled workers were being paid too much and threatening to put job creators out of business.

"The market has a huge demand for such low-skilled labour, causing a continuous rise in salaries for these jobs, and increasing the burden on entrepreneurs," he wrote in his blog.

He said this rising wage trend must be monitored because it threatened small- and medium-sized businesses. "Hiring staff was their greatest difficulty," he added. "A restaurant owner said he couldn't find anyone to do a dishwashing job in the city centre even if he offered HK$12,000 a month."

Tsang penned this blog post while noting the city's enthusiasm for premium alcohol products such as whisky after a visit at the weekend to the Wine and Dine Festival at the Central harbourfront.

He has reportedly clashed repeatedly with his boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has fretted about the increasing wealth gap and social inequalities it engenders.

Everyone in Hong Kong knows the number one threat to businesses is not wages but rent. Yes, it's difficult to hire and keep the right workers. But high rents and property prices respectively kill businesses and deter entrepreneurism; why save money to start a business when you will be better off betting on the property market? And the greatest divide in Hong Kong between the haves and the have-nots is that between those who own properties and those who don't. No doubt the ridiculous money we pay mediocre people for top government jobs is itself a factor in our social inequalities.

Meanwhile, Tsang and the government claim living standards are rising and fewer people live under the poverty line. The administration deserves some credit in not making the poverty situation worse. But the poverty gap has in fact widened. One estimate is that the funding needed to bridge the gap has risen by more than HK$3 billion per year since 2009. With officials like Tsang, the poor haven't a chance.