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ATV's Ip Ka-po was unable to promise payment. Photo: SCMP

ATV's news employees threaten to go on strike over unpaid salaries

ATV news staff have threatened to cease newsroom operations on January 1 if they are not paid their overdue salaries by the end of this month.

ATV news staff have threatened to cease newsroom operations on January 1 if they are not paid their overdue salaries by the end of this month.

The troubled broadcaster has yet to pay salaries for last month totalling more than HK$15 million to more than 700 employees. A news blackout caused by the threatened indefinite walkout would put ATV at risk of breaching its licensing conditions.

In an open letter to ATV and the public, news staff said: "At a time when other companies in Hong Kong are handing out year-end bonuses and discussing pay increases, ATV has failed to honour its basic commitment to its workforce - the payment of wages for their hard work.

"This is particularly lamentable considering that, both on the front lines and behind the scenes, we have sacrificed a lot to ensure proper news coverage of the Occupy Central crisis."

Citing labour laws, they said an employer would be considered in breach of contract with employees if it failed to pay staff within one month.

"Therefore, if we are not paid by December 31, ATV will have effectively terminated the employment of newsroom staff. As such, no staff member is obliged to come to work on January 1 next year," the letter read.

The letter was issued after a meeting yesterday between the Labour Department and ATV.

Ip Ka-po, ATV's executive director, said an urgent board meeting was convened yesterday to discuss the crisis. "We are not sure whether the payment could be made to the employees by Christmas … but our shareholders understand the seriousness of the matter," Ip said.

He said he had met ATV's major investors including its key investor, mainland businessman Wong Ching, to update them but had failed to convince them to provide additional funds.

"They said they had already invested more than HK$2 billion in the past five years and had almost accomplished their historical mission," Ip said, adding that two or three companies were interested in buying the station.

The latest rumoured white knight is MediaCorp of Singapore. MediaCorp declined to comment, while a senior source at ATV said the company was not on the list of potential buyers.

In a statement last night, ATV shareholder Tsai Eng-meng said he had no plan to sell his shares and still believed ATV was a "valuable asset" and "a signboard that can be polished [to shine]". He urged the station to settle the financial predicament as soon as possible.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Pay us or we walk out, news staff tell ATV