24 April 2019
Oxfam Hong Kong officials present the findings of their Hong Kong Living Wage Report at a press conference on Sunday. Photo: HKEJ
Oxfam Hong Kong officials present the findings of their Hong Kong Living Wage Report at a press conference on Sunday. Photo: HKEJ

‘Living wage’ needed to meet workers’ basic needs: Oxfam

Hong Kong should work toward making employers pay their workers a “living wage”, rather than remain content with the current system of statutory minimum wage, international group Oxfam says.

Presenting the results of a survey conducted jointly with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Oxfam said on Sunday that it deems that HK$54.7 an hour is the minimum that workers in Hong Kong should be paid if they are to enjoy a basic standard of living.

The UK-headquartered group, which seeks to end the injustices that cause poverty, said its study has found that the basic monthly household expenditure for a one-person family on average in 2017 was HK$11,021, while that for a three-person family it amounted to HK$20,448. 

As such, Oxfam said that it is appropriate to pay an average three-person working household (one parent with a full-time job, one with a part-time job, and one child in primary/secondary school) an hourly living wage of HK$54.7, assuming 26 working days a month and eight hours a day.

The recommended pay is 58 percent higher than the HK$34.50 statutory minimum wage set at the moment, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

Releasing its Hong Kong Living Wage Report, Oxfam has called on the government and capable employers to pay their workers a “living wage” rather than the currently implemented minimum wage.

The statutory minimum wage has not been able to keep up with inflation and fails to take the basic needs of employees’ families into account, the group said.

As defined by the Global Living Wage Coalition, a living wage is the remuneration received for a standard work week by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and his or her  family.

Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transport, clothing, and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events.

Adopting a living wage would enable employees and their families to make a reasonable living and secure a decent standard of living, and it can also help the government address the problem of working poverty as well as close the gap between the rich and poor to create a fairer society, Oxfam said.

The call came after data unveiled by the government in November showed that the number of working-poor people in Hong Kong stood at 480,000 last year, or a working-poor poverty rate of 8.1 percent, which was one percentage point higher than a year earlier, despite the fact that the unemployment rate was on a downward trend.

To understand working families’ cost of living in Hong Kong to calculate the living wage rate, Oxfam and the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies Centre for Quality of Life at the Chinese University of Hong Kong jointly conducted a study between November 2017 and February 2018.

The study, which looked at one-person and three-person low-income families and used the 2014/15 Household Expenditure Survey as reference for the survey framework, focused on four major items: food, housing, other essential expenses and a small margin for unseen events.

According to its findings, workers need to receive at least HK$54.7 if they are to have a reasonable living standard. 

Wong Hung, an associate professor of social work at the Chinese University, who was involved in the study, suggested introducing the living wage to allow employees and their families maintain a decent standard of living.

If the living wage concept is adopted, it can help resolve the problem of working poor, he said.

Noting that the Living Wage Movement has spread across countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the United States in recent years, Kalina Tsang Ka-wai, head of Oxfam’s Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan Programme, said the Living Wage Foundation established in 2011 in the UK has accredited nearly 4,800 employers who pay their staff a living wage.

She pointed out that the United Nations also acknowledges that workers’ basic needs for living should be taken into consideration when setting wages.

The Hong Kong government, which has as much as HK$1.1 trillion worth of reserves in hand, should take the lead and push its outsourced service contractors to pay their workers the living wage, Tsang said.

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