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Public support:  Secretary for Labour & Welfare Matthew Cheung appeals to the whole community to embrace the launch of the statutory minimum wage in the true spirit of Hong Kong’s amicable labour-relations tradition.

Society to benefit from minimum wage

April 30, 2011
Secretary for Labour & Welfare Matthew Cheung has appealed to the community to embrace the launch of the statutory minimum wage in the true spirit of Hong Kong’s amicable labour-relations tradition, adding society will eventually benefit from the new initiative if everyone is willing to walk an extra step.
 
In an article published in local newspapers today, Mr Cheung said the statutory minimum wage, which will come into force tomorrow, is an important and fundamental reform not only affecting employers and employees, but people from all walks of life including property owners and consumers.
 
“From past experience, teething problems are inevitable in launching a major initiative of such magnitude. Indeed, we are entering uncharted waters in Hong Kong’s social development.
 
“Nevertheless, I am confident that we can surmount any hurdles if we are all prepared to join hands and walk an extra step for the long-term benefit and harmony of our society.”
 
He said the community’s concerted efforts can ensure a smooth introduction of the statutory minimum wage and better protect grassroots workers.


Building consensus
Appealing to employers to provide better remuneration to their staff if they can afford to, Mr Cheung also urged staff to understand issues their employers face.
 
“This is not so much a question of conscience, but of ability of employers to balance the welfare of employees with the needs of the company, which ultimately pays the wages.”
 
He urged employers and employees to handle the issue in a lawful and reasonable manner, and solve problems arising from the launch through communication and negotiation. The Labour Department will offer assistance if necessary.
 
He reiterated the guiding principles in introducing the statutory minimum wage are:
* That pay after its implementation should not be lower than before;
* Where feasible, employers should not reduce employees’ existing remuneration and benefits; and
* Employers should not unilaterally vary employees’ employment terms and conditions.
 
On the recent debate over pay for meal breaks and rest days, he said there has never been any labour legislation prescribing whether they be paid or not.
 
“They are terms of employment to be agreed between employers and employees.  The Minimum Wage Ordinance does not aim to change this long-standing arrangement. It would be inappropriate to stipulate these in legislation.
 
“The goal of the statutory minimum wage is to set a wage floor, rather than regulate or change the current contractual arrangement between employers and employees. This is similar to relevant legislation in other jurisdictions including the UK, Ireland, Japan and the Mainland.”
 
Multi-pronged approach
The Labour Department will adopt a multi-pronged approach to ensure a smooth introduction. It has strengthened manpower and will enhance its consultation and conciliation services to help resolve any differences.
 
The department’s Labour Relations Division has 10 district offices providing conciliation and mediation service. When employers and employees have problems with the new initiatives, they can visit one of these offices where experienced officers will attend to them within 30 minutes.
 
If they end up in a deadlock, the offices are prepared to provide free conciliation services no later than five weeks from the time they lodge their applications for assistance.
 
“We will also conduct inspections at workplaces of various trades to explain the Minimum Wage Ordinance to employers and employees and to ensure employers comply with the law.
 
“If employers have inadvertently miscalculated employees’ working hours, the Labour Department will require employers to settle the wages owed. For those who deliberately break the rules, the Labour Department will take strict enforcement action.”
 
The department will also enhance its employment services to help those affected by the new initiative.
 
In recognition of the variety of work patterns in different trades, the department has drawn up detailed guidelines, with reference to existing situations and in consultation with stakeholders. The department has also published a concise guide to assist those who wish to have a quick grasp of the key statutory requirements.
 
People with questions can visit the department’s Labour Relations Division District Offices, or call the 24-hour hotline, 2717 1771. The department is also organising seminars to help employers and employees understand the new initiative.
 
Click here to see the article.
 
 (Part 2 of the Statutory Minimum Wage series) 

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