ATV - Asia Television Limited

ATV case shows need for Hong Kong to amend labour law when it comes to late payment of wages

Some see a fine of HK$150,000 for executive director Ip Ka-po as being too lenient; others say he is merely a scapegoat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 December, 2015, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 December, 2015, 8:53pm

The labour law makes it an offence to delay the payment of wages. Employers who fail to pay on time are liable to a fine of HK$350,000 and three years’ imprisonment. The legal responsibility for employers should be clear enough. But the case involving the troubled broadcaster ATV shows that the issue may not be as straightforward as it seems. The station has repeatedly failed to pay its staff on time over the past year. In April, it was fined HK$1.07 million after pleading guilty to 102 wage-related summonses . Last Wednesday, the court also slapped a total fine of HK$150,000 on executive director Ip Ka-po for the same summonses. The lighter-than-expected punishment has understandably aroused much debate in the community.

The fines appear to be too lenient when compared to the

HK$1.13 million in question, which was owed to 24 staff members over seven months. But whether Ip should be punished for this offence is open to debate. As the executive director, Ip is legally responsible. The court had heard how staffers were going unpaid when ATV’s bank accounts, to which Ip had access, held more than HK$9 million in deposits at one point. But on the other hand, Ip is also one of those whose salary was not paid on time. He has, arguably, been made a scapegoat. Unlike other unscrupulous employers who may just disappear in times of financial trouble, Ip stayed in his post and tried to secure funding to pay the staff. The wages owed were eventually paid. Nearly half of the staff signed a petition urging the court to be lenient.

The factors were appreciated by the magistrate, who handed down a lenient fine of HK$1,500 for each summons. But she stressed it did not mean unpaid wages were not taken seriously by the court. The public, though, may get a different message when the sentence does not meet expectations.

A review of the relevant law is advisable. It is baffling when someone is convicted of an offence where he is also a victim. It would not be fair if those who are ultimately culpable are not brought to justice.