Minimum wage is not simply an economic issue, Stupid!

2006-10-01 - oiwan

Author/ Ah Yeah
The issue of legislation on minimum wage has drawn people's attention after a series of activities organized by the Civil Alliance for Minimum Wage. The alliance launched a 30-hours hunger strike in Causeway Bay last week. On Sunday, University Student's Grassroots Concern Group went to Sun Hung Kai Centre to protest against the contractor of cleaning services who exploited janitors. The alliance held a forum on Sai Yeung Choi Street, Mongkok on Sunday afternoon (September 17). Speakers from different sectors discussed the problem of legislation on minimum wage.

Pan Wenhan, representative of the alliance, was the first speaker. He stated clearly their three appeals:

1. Legislation on minimum wage. Not accept any charter or incentive mechanism as equivocal solution.

2. The legislation should cover the whole society and all trades.

3. Minimum wage level should be set at HK$30 per hour. It is set according to the level of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and the principles of eight hour each day and one worker supporting one family member.

As Leung Yiu Chung said, with a closer look at Hong Kong laws, we know that in the economic recession of the early 1930s, the minimum wage commission had enacted a regulation. In 1940, the Regulation of Commission of Trades authorized the Governor the power to set minimum wage according to the situations of different trades. In other words, there is no need to see minimum wage as a great threat. Hong Kong government only need to revise the old laws in accordance with the current situations, rather than to make new laws.

Besides, Leung criticized the statistics provided by the Commission on Poverty earlier as inaccurate and misleading. The Commission said the employed poverty is 190,000. Yet, there are 260,000 workers with a monthly wage lower than HK$5,000. But it takes away 70,000 people, mostly women who bear the heavy burden of housework and work as part-time staff. The government use the excuse of "involuntary" to exclude these people from the category of employed poverty. And a huge number of self-employed workers in the outsourcing system are also not counted by government. He estimated that the number reached 350,000 much higher than the official figure. It implies that a number of workers earn less than the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. This is a social pathology we have to find some ways to cure.

Does minimum wage decrease productivity and even crumble the economy. Huang Hong, professor of Social Work and researcher on poverty at Chinese University, mentioned the example of South Korea. Since the mid-1990s, minimum wage has been set up and it is still one of the fastest growing country in Asia. Among the countries hit by the financial crisis of the late 1990s, South Korea recovered quickly. Many countries, no matter self-claimed "socialist" or "capitalist", have already enacted laws on minimum wage. No studies, except the subject of economics in Hong Kong's A-Level Examination, confirm the negative effect of minimum wage on economy. The real situation shows the weakness and over-simplification of the economics model.

After the speeches on the stage, it was the turn for the floor. A friend, who work in the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to monitor the subcontracted janitors, said that she has seen a janitor earning HK$7 per hour. Usually they are new immigrants, disabled people or elders who do not know how to protect their rights. Among the janitors whom she monitors every day, the toilet cleaners earn only HK$19.9 per hour, even without lunch time in eight working hours.

A member of the trade union of security guard said that the "voluntary" system of minimum wage promoted by the government was practiced in his trade. But it turned out to be total failure. No security company joins it. As he said, some workers could earn HK$7,000-8,000 each month but they worked 12 hours per day. They are also required to go to work half an hour earlier to attend the briefing without any overtime compensation.

An employer who started his small business a few years ago also came to support minimum wage. He said these low-wage workers are the basis of Hong Kong. But the Hong Kong society has not done anything for them. He had interviewed an applicant who said that he never received a salary over HK$5,000. He employed him immediately and offered him a wage over HK$5,000.

All people agreed to support minimum wage. The positive response of the small businessman was quite dramatic. But I guess no one would doubt they staged. A worker from the food industry, who was not able to express herself clearly but only repeated her support of minimum wage law, said that the workers "only know when to start to work but don't know when to get off duty." From her eyes and voices, you could see the workers' dignity and persistence. All of their opinions come out of sweat and blood no one could ignore.

The campaign for minimum wage is not new to the social and political agenda. In 2004, the Hong Kong government proposed to have discussion on minimum wage and handed over the issue to the Labour Advisory Board. The new Chief Executive Donald Tsang raised this issue again in his Policy Address again. There were many debates in the Legislative Council. Leung said, "Now the problem we have is Donald Tsang's strategy of dragging on. He gave the issue to the employer and put the Labour Advisory Board to face the public pressure. He doesn't want to express his opinion before the announcement of his second term."

In other words, this is not an academic or empirical issue. It does nothing about the positive or negative effect on economy. Tsang's tactic is neither rejection (not to cause people's anger) nor pushing forward actively (not to cause dissatisfaction of the 700 electoral committee members eligible for electing the Chief Executive). He just wants to postpone the decision by saying that he would table it to the "higher level discussion" of the Committee of Strategic Development after no result from the discussion of the Labour Advisory Board. If the campaign followed the route map designed by the government, it would be trapped. The route is a safety passage for Tsang to go to his second term smoothly rather than a feasible way for making law on minimum wage.

The analysis of Leung Kok Hung (Long Hair), one of the speakers, was meaningful. He said, "The friends who fight for minimum wage are political opposition. 100% political opposition. Now it is not about economic theories or market economy. It is a political issue." The economic and subsistence conditions provided by Hong Kong government are inhumane. On the one hand, it keeps postponing the legislation for minimum wage. On the other hand, it wants to implement Goods and Services Tax. Now what Hong Kong needs is uncompromising political opposition who can express its opinions clearly, see through the politics of this battlefield and strongly send our request to the government seriously.

After the forum, the alliance announced that a mass rally will be held at 2:00 pm on October 2. Participants will walk from Wanchai to Government House to express people' request to Donald Tsang. We will keep you updated on the progress.

18 4月18:39

I'd walk a mile for a

By coco

I'd walk a mile for a kent
Submitted by bfire52 on Fri, 2009-04-17 23:05.

good article, well done, interesting.