Lee is a 61-year-old security guard at a public park in Hong Kong. For her, a luxury at work means being able to be on duty at a fixed spot under the shade. “I am exposed to the sun and the rain, it’s not that good to work here,” said Lee, who only gave her last name out of fear she could be fired from her job. “Last week when it was raining, I was completely soaked twice.” She works six days a week on eight-hour shifts, making about HK$9,000 (US$1,147) monthly after deducting pension contributions. She is paid HK$37.50 an hour , Hong Kong’s minimum wage. Hong Kong NGO urges government to raise minimum wage, calls for annual review Statistics from the Minimum Wage Commission show some 14,300 employees, mostly in property management, retail and catering industries, only received the base hourly pay in May and June of 2021. Lee said she believed the current minimum wage should be increased to at least HK$45 to HK$50 an hour. “It means that I won’t have to calculate everything, I won’t have to keep thinking about where I can save money.” Lee lives with her daughter, 30, in public housing, with her entire salary going towards expenses such as rent, utilities and food. She also receives up to HK$3,000 per month from her daughter, but is saving that money for the latter’s marriage. The older woman shops for food during discount periods, rarely eats out, and wears clothes passed down from relatives. “I don’t really have any strong hopes for the future, I am just taking each day as it comes,” Lee said. Hong Kong has not changed its minimum wage since 2019, with authorities pointing to a pandemic-hit economy during a 2021 review. Introduced in 2011 to protect low-income employees, the minimum wage policy has frequently drawn heated debates between concern groups, businesses and unions. The matter was brought under the spotlight again as the Minimum Wage Commission launched its latest biennial review in April, with a six-week public consultation that ended on Tuesday. In a letter to the statutory body, the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) and other grass-roots groups stated that the hourly base pay should be increased to at least HK$50. It also suggested changes such as the use of annual reviews and poverty impact assessments. Last Sunday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong dismissed the idea of an annual review of the minimum wage as “unfeasible”. He noted in a blog post that the 8.7 per cent increase in hourly pay rates to HK$37.50 in 2019 was the highest since its introduction. The Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, a local business group, has called for an increase to HK$41 per hour. Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah, an employer representative at the Labour Advisory Council, stated on a radio programme last Monday that many businesses think the mark should not be adjusted this year because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years. Another security guard, Wong, 50, who is also on minimum wage, agreed the base pay should be increased. She also only gave her last name to protect her identity. Wong noted that daily necessities such as rice and oil had become more expensive, making life much harder for her and her 14-year-old son. “Everyone has been suffering, shouldn’t the minimum wage be at least HK$50, so our lives will be better,” Wong said. The security guard works seven hours per day for most of the month, only earning about HK$6,800. She has about HK$1,600 left after deducting expenses such as rent, utilities and her son’s tutorial fees. “We need to use a calculator to count everything, if not, we might not have enough money left,” Wong said. To her, an increase in the minimum wage means more money to pay back loans, as well as the ability to better feed her son. Should Hong Kong raise its minimum wage to keep up with inflation? Terence Chong Tai-leung, executive director of the Lau Chor Tak Institute of Global Economics and Finance at Chinese University, said an increase of 5 to 10 per cent for the minimum wage was reasonable. He cited factors such as the pay rise of civil servants in the lower salary tier, inflation and the potential for an economic rebound next year. But Chong cautioned that any sharp increase might lead to a “ripple effect” that would cause prices to go up, which would then affect the rest of society. He argued that overall, Hong Kong would have to come to terms with how it treated its workers. “Competition has a baseline, and social improvement is the lifting of this baseline,” he said. “Why can some places survive with standardised working hours and minimum wages, and Hong Kong can’t?” South Korea and Taiwan are among a few neighbouring regions that have seen an increase in their minimum wage in 2022, at 5.1 per cent and 5.21 per cent respectively. “We need to lift this baseline incrementally to reach the international standard,” Chong said.