Hong Kong’s new minimum wage is far too low

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 10:27pm

The new minimum hourly wage of HK$34.50 took effect on

May 1. Ho Kai-ming, the lawmaker representing the Federation of Trade Unions, said that it “must be higher to reflect the growing needs of workers” (“Most items remain out of reach despite wage rise”, May 2).

The new rate is meant to benefit ordinary workers, but what can you buy with HK$34.50? At the current minimum rate, some people will continue to have to work 12 to 13 hours a day just to feed their families. I do not see how a family can exist in Hong Kong on this revised wage rate. It would be difficult even if it was doubled.

The same applies to Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). I understand from friends that a family of three would get so little in the form of a CSSA payment that it would not even cover the rent charged for a subdivided flat. Underprivileged children do not get allowances for extracurricular activities, which are necessary for a child’s development, especially for learning social skills.

The problem with the minimum wage in Hong Kong is simple – it is far too low. A household with two full-time workers earning HK$30 per hour, working 50 hours a week, will make about HK$13,000 a month. This is far too little to live on without government assistance. Double the minimum wage and the household will have HK$26,000 but still be close to the poverty line. And there are always people who will struggle to get work, so the minimum wage cannot help them.

Policies must be formulated which offer assistance to this group of people so they can be helped out of poverty. This can include retraining and more realistic welfare payments.

I wonder if there is a will on the part of civil servants to make the necessary changes. Maintaining a large portion of the population in poverty can justify oversized government departments dedicated to providing subsidies, public housing, transport allowances and cash handouts.

If workers were able to earn a living wage, many of these career civil servants would be out of a job.

While I am critical of the minimum wage, I am not saying that we should abolish it, but I think it ought be adjusted according to economic circumstances. The present rate is simply not enough to pay for the basic necessities, so it must be higher.

Michael Li, Hang Hau