Labor groups denounced a government decision to set the monthly wage threshold for standard working hours at HK$11,000 (US$1,410), saying the amount is too low to protect most of the grassroots workers, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Stephen Siu Wai-keung announced on Tuesday the Executive Council decided to adopt the wage line recommended in the final report submitted by the Standard Working Hours Committee (SWHC), which took nearly four years to study the issue.
The policy means that workers who earn more than the amount are not protected by regulations on standard working hours.
Siu said the policy requires employers to sign a contract with an employee whose monthly wage is less than HK$11,000 to make sure the latter will works within standard working hours and can claim compensation for overtime pay at a rate that is at least the same as the agreed wage or equivalent time off in lieu of the additional pay.
The terms of the contract are based on mutual recognition, although the Labour Department will provide non-mandatory guidelines for 11 sectors that are deemed to be paying lower wages, such as catering, property management and cleaning services.
According to Siu, about two in 10 workers currently earn less than HK$11,000 a month, and at least 610,000 of them can benefit from the new policy as overtime compensation is not yet specified in their contracts.
However, labor groups and several lawmakers slammed the decision, noting that the set wage line can offer protection to only 16 percent of the more than 3.8 million wage earners in the city.
Asked by media if the threshold is set too low, Siu said the government, in making the decision, also took into consideration the employers’ ability to pay and the economy’s sustainable development.
Leung Chau-ting, a former workers’ representative at the SWHC who had quit over disagreements with other members of the panel, said the wage line was clearly set in favor of the employers since workers have no negotiating power when signing their employment contract.
A security guard, who is working under contract at a shopping mall and earning HK$9,100 a month for 8.5 hours of work a day, said she is worried she might be asked to work longer hours since the new policy allows her employer to do so as long as she is given overtime pay.
She also voiced fears that the new policy could encourage employers to reduce manpower.
In a joint statement, three lawmakers from the labor sector and six members of the Labor Advisory Board lashed out at the government for ignoring demands of the sector by setting the wage line at a level that is way below its expectations.
According to law, the proposed wage line will go to the Labor Advisory Board for discussion before the Legislative Council decides whether to accept it and make relevant amendments to the Employment Ordinance.
This means that the policy can only be implemented in late 2020 at the earliest or in early 2021.
When it was formed five years ago, the SWHC discussed setting the standard working hours at 40-44 hours a week, but in 2015, it proposed contracted standard hours, which prompted a number of worker representatives to quit the committee.
[Chinese version 中文版]
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