Hong Kong broadcaster ATV once more defaults on pay for its staff
The failure to pay 800 employees a total of HK$20 million once again raises questions about licence renewal for the station
Beleaguered terrestrial broadcaster ATV has once again failed to pay its 800 staff, prompting renewed speculation over whether it will be given a new licence.
However, sources at the station expressed confidence that its licence would be renewed, even though it had failed to pay its staff a total of HK$20 million and a shareholder dispute was continuing in the courts.
The station, struggling to seek new buyers and ensure it is granted a new free-to-air licence once its current one expires in November next year, admitted that it had not paid its staff last month, putting itself at risk of violating labour laws for a second time within three months. ATV failed to pay its staff their September wages for more than 20 days.
The Employment Ordinance stipulates that an employer must pay wages to an employee no later than seven days after the end of a wage period.
ATV usually paid its staff by the first day of the month, but there had been no sign of payment as of last night - a week after the usual payment date - staff members said.
Any employer who fails to pay salaries without a reasonable excuse is liable to prosecution, and if convicted could be fined up to HK$350,000 and jailed for three years.
The Labour Department issued a warning to the station in October.
A department spokesman said it was "following up on the suspected violation of the Employment Ordinance", but did not give details.
The broadcasting watchdog, the Communications Authority, said ATV had been reminded of the licensing requirement that it must have enough staff to maintain its service.
An ATV spokesman said the station was in contact with shareholders and hoped to resolve the problem soon.
Both of Hong Kong's free-to-air broadcasters, ATV and TVB, are waiting for a decision by the Chief Executive in Council on their bids to renew their licences.
While TVB is confident about its application, there are serious doubts over ATV's chances after shareholder Tsai Eng-meng told a recent court hearing that the media watchdog had recommended that the Chief Executive in Council not renew its licence.
Under the Broadcasting Ordinance, the council should give a licensee 12 months' notice before its licence expires, should it decide against renewal. However, the law also allows it to extend a licence if an announcement of a renewal decision is made closer to the expiry date.
Sources said the council had put a decision on hold to give ATV time to complete a deal with a potential buyer.
A source from ATV said the station was still negotiating with a possible new buyer and he was confident about renewal.
"If ATV's licence were taken back, then it would have to be given to someone else, and [the government] certainly wouldn't want to give it to Ricky Wong Wai-kay," the source said, referring to Wong's internet-based TV station HKTV.
Wong's application for a free-to-air licence was rejected last year, prompting tens of thousands of protesters to take to the streets.
"Public discontent wouldn't be a concern for this government," the source said. "Just look at how the government has dealt with Occupy protests over the past two months."