Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr. Law Chi-kwong came under fire after he asserted that the government has been able to make the minimum wage rise faster than inflation.
In a blog post on Sunday, Law said the minimum wage increase over the past few years was greater than the cumulative inflation, dismissing criticism from some labor groups who said the actual situation was the opposite, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The statutory minimum wage came into force on May 1, 2011, when it was set at HK$28 per hour. The rate was raised to HK$34.5 on May 1 last year.
Law said the minimum wage increase based on the two numbers was 23.2 percent, higher than the cumulative increase in the Composite Consumer Price Index during the period, which was 20.4 percent.
Law admitted that not all people at grassroots level felt the same about inflation, saying those who live in private rented flats, for example, might be more sensitive to food price increases.
Government data also showed the number of workers earning the minimum wage accounted for only 0.9 percent of the total labor force in the city in May and June last year, much lower than the 6.4 percent seen in the same period in 2011, the labor chief said.
The situation indicated that many grassroots workers had retired, which in turn led to a tighter labor market and helped low-wage workers see their incomes improve, Law said.
Law’s defense of the minimum wage increases came as the Minimum Wage Commission started seeking views on the review of the statutory minimum wage rate on April 9.
As the public consultation will only last until May 20, Law urged Hong Kong people to participate and submit their views on the matter.
Stanley Ng Chau-pei, president of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said Law’s remarks were misleading.
It is meaningless to say the minimum wage had risen faster than inflation because the initial minimum wage rate was set at a very low level, thereby providing a very low base of comparison, Ng said.
Ng urged the government to review the minimum wage comprehensively because it has been unable to offer protection to grassroots workers. He said the minimum hourly rate should be set at HK$42.5.
Carol Ng Man-yee, chairwoman of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, suggested a rate of HK$44, saying the current minimum wage fails to reflect the real inflation rate.
The Consumer Price Index A, which covers expenditures of the bottom 50 percent of the population, should be taken into consideration as well, rather than just the underlying inflation rate, she said.
Lam Chun-sing, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong & Kowloon Labour Unions, said he hopes the rate will be raised to no less than HK$40 initially.
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