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Just $1 more

Kelly Ip  HK Standard

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Catering sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who set off public anger in 2010 by suggesting a minimum wage of HK$20 an hour, is making waves again as pay is reviewed.

He’s saying the lowest legal wage should be raised by just HK$1 from the HK$28 an hour set last year despite his opposition.

Employers cannot afford more than HK$29 an hour, Cheung argues. But grassroots groups want a raise to between HK$33 and HK$35 an hour and also seek an annual review of the minimum wage.

Cheung said he sent questionnaires to 60 catering firms with 1,000 outlets, and 36 replied. Of those, 22 percent were willing to pay an extra dollar but others wanted the HK$28 minimum to stay.

There is a ripple effect with any increase, Cheung said. “The government expected the minimum wage would add 3 percent to operating costs, but the actual cost was 15 to 16 percent.”

With juniors’ wages raised, he said, people higher up the ladder wanted increases too. And there are many job levels in catering, he added.

According to Cheung, small and medium-scale restaurants were hit hard at HK$28. Half the operators he checked with had complained of an average 4 percent drop in revenue.

Fuk Yuen Group chairman Lo Ho- wan, with six restaurants and 500 employees, said he felt the squeeze.

One restaurant in Causeway Bay had to be closed when the rent doubled from around HK$200,000 a month, and 20 employees had to be laid off.

Related to that, Chinese General Chamber of Commerce vice chairman

David Fong Man-hung told a Legislative Council manpower panel that more restaurants will close because of costs. He also said that, despite offering HK$33, an hour some catering firms were unable to hire capable dishwashers.

And he doubted the situation would improve even if the minimum wage went to HK$40 as other sectors paid much more than jobs in catering.

But the chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Mung Siu-tat, had another take on it.

“A company should improve the working environment and reduce working hours to attract job-seekers instead of blaming the minimum wage,” he said.

Based on current inflation, Mung said, the HK$28 of last year was comparable to HK$24 today.

Luk Kam-shing, 40, currently earning HK$28 an hour for taking charge of table linen at a clubhouse in Causeway Bay, earns HK$7,812 a month for working nine hours a day, six days a week.

Her husband, also in catering, makes HK$10,000 a month. “Everything is getting more expensive now,” Luk said. “The government always approves applications to raise transport fares. How about our wages?

“Imagine having to pay HK$40 for lunch in Causeway Bay when I only earn HK$28 an hour.”

The couple have sons aged 10 and five, and Luk said they can barely afford textbooks. “I also feel sorry for our older boy as I had to cut back on his ping- pong training.” She hopes a new minimum wage will be at least HK$33.

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