Pay workers a ‘living wage’ of HK$54.70, Hong Kong employers urged

  • Study by Oxfam and Chinese University finds that is the minimum needed to survive in the city
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2018, 8:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2018, 10:59pm

Hongkongers must be paid at least HK$54.70 (US$7) an hour to ensure a basic standard of living, 58 per cent higher than the minimum wage, a study has found.

But the onus was on employers to make it happen voluntarily, and not on the government to legislate, the pollsters said.

Oxfam and Chinese University conducted five focus group discussions with a total of 36 people from poor families, from November 2017 to February this year to look at how much they normally spend on basic necessities such as food, transport and rent.

The “living wage” study found that basic monthly expenses for a single person were between HK$10,494 and HK$11,548, while that for a three-person family was between HK$19,935 and HK$21,156.

Assuming a person works eight hours a day for 26 days a month, the person has to make HK$54.70 an hour to make ends meet. That was much higher than the current hourly minimum wage of HK$34.50, which is expected to go up to HK$37.50 next year.

“If any government officials respond by saying that the level is too high, I would ask: why don’t I pay you that much and you try to live off it?” said Wong Hung, assistant professor of social work at the university, who conducted the study.

The level that we have demanded could only ensure a very basic level of living
Wong Hung, Chinese University

“The level that we have demanded could only ensure a very basic level of living.”

Wong was not demanding that the government raise the minimum wage to HK$54.70 an hour, but that the city’s employers, including the government, pay workers that much voluntarily.

Even before the minimum wage was introduced in 2011, the government declined suggestions that it make it a “living wage”, Wong said. Demanding so again now would be “meaningless”, he said, because the government would not accept it.

Rather, Wong and Oxfam hoped the government could take the lead in setting an example. The government needed to tell its contractors they must pay at least HK$54.70 an hour, they said. Oxfam said 75 per cent of the government’s contracted workers, such as security guards and cleaners, made no more than HK$36.50 an hour.

Kalina Tsang Ka-wai, head of Oxfam’s Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan programme, noted that the “living wage” concept had been floated in Britain for several years, and said employers had been supportive.

“If the workers are paid more, they will perform better at work,” she said.

Wong was confident the city’s employers would endorse the initiative, saying that the several employers’ representatives they spoke to were supportive.

The study found that a single person’s minimum monthly expenses consisted of rent of about HK$5,300 on a subdivided flat of 70 sq ft; food expenses of HK$2,305 to HK$3,275; necessary expenses such as phone bills and internet of HK$1,140 to HK$1,223; and others.

Generations of children will be raised in poverty if we don’t act, warns council chief

Last month, the government announced that a record of more than 1.37 million of the city’s 7.4 million people lived below the poverty line.

The poverty line is set at 50 per cent of median monthly household income before tax and government policy intervention, which includes social welfare payments such as allowances for the elderly and low-income families.

In real terms, that sets the bar at a monthly income of HK$4,000 for a single person, HK$9,800 for two people and HK$15,000 for a three-person household.