Hon KP Chan on Motion on Deferring Enforcement of Minimum Wage:
• Minimum wage is now launched after many years of joint effort of workers, employers and the Government. Its primary purpose is to provide relief to the working-poor through livelihood protection for hundreds of thousands of workers at the grassroot layer of labour force. Many countries and areas have minimum wages in force already. As a caring society that respects human rights, Hong Kong is obliged to follow.
• The minimum wage law in Hong Kong has just come into effect. Like all new legislations, technical and enforcement hiccups are not unusual at the outset. These problems are unrelated to the policy itself. With rising inflation and consumer prices, there is no disagreement in providing essential protection in livelihood for grassroots. The current disputes concern technical and operational details. They relate to benefits of meal hours and rest days. In my view, the guiding principle here is that wages and benefits of workers should not be worse off after the launch of minimum pay.
• Actually, workers and employers may confer with mutual understanding and mutual reconciliation to resolve their differences in meal hours and rest days without affecting the enforcement of minimum pay. I believe that labour disputes should always be resolved through mediation between workers and employers. Lately, trade unions and trade associations have reached consensus on the meal hours of security guards. They used to be controversial issues. Shifts of more than eight hours are now eligible for paid meal hours. This is indeed typical of the spirit of mutual understanding and mutual reconciliation between our workers and businessmen. It also demonstrates the sincerity of businessmen in taking up the social responsibility of helping improve livelihood of workers.
• We all realize that payment for meal hours and rest days are not statutory. Many small and medium businesses do wish that they could afford to meet aspirations of workers. In the wake of rising operating costs, they are worrying that such benefits would be “the last two straws that crack the camel’s back”. These businesses are afraid that they would eventually close their doors under unsustainable cost pressure. While we compliment employers who could afford payment for meal hours and rest days, we should not condemn those who could not for various reasons. Since they are not unscrupulous, smearing is unfair. Workers and employers share the same boat and their relationship should always be cooperative.
• I am convinced that most employers in Hong Kong are law-abiding and solemnly helping workers to improve their livelihood. If employers deliberately break the law, there should be no clemency. When a new law is introduced, it is understandable that the community needs time to familiarize with it. If employers merely misunderstand the law, any infringement should be dealt with leniency. It is the duty of the Government to mediate and handle with common sense. Meanwhile, the Government should also step up promotion and publicity to educate the public on the calculation of minimum pay. As such, unintentional violation of the law would be duly avoided.
• Deferral of enforcement would simply mean suspension of the law. A more practical way in the circumstances is to put more resources in promotion and publicity of the new law. It has taken many years for the Government to reach consensus with workers and employers to launch the minimum pay. All parties take time to further reconcile among themselves. Notwithstanding, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of workers are benefiting from it. All employers in Hong Kong are proud to provide a caring and prestigious working environment and to help improve workers’ livelihood.