Lawmaker apologizes for HK$20 hourly wage plan
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Lawmaker apologizes for HK$20 hourly wage plan

Hong Kong currently doesn’t have a minimum wage law. Various sectors have clamored for one to be implemented amidst the low pay many blue collar workers receive. Labor leaders and representatives of employers seem to agree that a minimum wage should be implemented. But the two groups remain on a stalemate about what should be the lowest possible hourly rate.
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/>Enter the Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan from the catering sector, who suggested that the first statutory minimum rate should just be HK$20 (US$2.5). There are places in the world where many people live on one US dollar a day but in Hong Kong it’s hard to live on two US dollars an hour. Labor leaders insist that HK$33 is the least amount a worker must receive to support a family. But that may be too much for employers to handle without laying off people. And that’s primarily the basis on which Mr Cheung made the suggestion.
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/>Cheung spoke to an angry crowd which includes cleaners and security workers, who will be covered by the new wage legislation, and explained that a prudent rate should be adopted to prevent job losses and maintain Hong Kong’s competitiveness and long-term economic development. “This is the first time we will have a statutory minimum wage. We don’t know how lethal that will be [to business], HK$20 seems not so lethal. In future adjustments, it will always be easier for the rate to rise than to drop,” Cheung said.
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/>Apparently, no development would ever happen if workers are not compensated enough to be competitive. The remark only earned him criticism from rivals, and no party mate came to the rescue. But he quickly issued an apology for making the suggestion. Maybe he just made a slip of the tongue, a mistake that’s sometimes difficult to withdraw. And Cheung realized that even party mates tried to distance themselves from the earlier statement.
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/>The Liberal Party, a pro-business political sector, through its chairwoman Miriam Lau specifically suggested a minimum wage of HK$24 an hour is acceptable, but did not ever make the HK$20 suggestion by Mr Cheung. Walter Kwok, a non-executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties and one of the wealthiest men in the city, said he had not discussed the issue with Cheung, also a deputy general manager of the World Trade Centre Club which is managed by Sun Hung Kai Properties.
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/>Cheung may have erred on suggesting a rate too small for workers to accept, he may have got a hint from statistics made available the day before. The Census and Statistics Department revealed results of a detailed survey that will be a major source of determining the minimum wage. It showed that while almost one in every six workers earns less than HK$33 an hour, the median (excluding government workers and domestic helpers) is HK$58 an hour. I wonder how Mr Cheung came up with that paltry number knowing that the statistics point higher, assuming he saw the survey results at all.
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/>While it’s understandable that Tommy Cheung was making an effort to ensure better welfare for the industry he is representing, he also has to think from the other side of the fence. Workers, while a bulk of businesses expense, are after all the lifeblood of business and their welfare should be taken care of very well.