Eleven chefs have recouped more than HK$200,000 worth of unpaid wages and severance pay after a days-long struggle to seek payment.
The labour dispute arose after Choi Fook Wedding Banquet Group failed to pay its chefs their salaries last month. The Hong Kong Chef Union intervened following calls for assistance, helping the workers negotiate with the restaurant management.
The union’s chair Ng Chi-fai told HKFP that the workers quit their jobs in late-May after being told that Choi Fook would be renovating its Causeway Bay branch. Based on past experience, the workers believed “renovation” meant mass layoffs, prompting them to consider resigning.
They said they were never informed by the head chef or manager of the arrangement during the renovation. After failing to receive a response, 11 chefs resigned from the company.
The workers sought help from the union after the restaurant group failed to pay their May wages. They also wanted severance payment, claiming that they were misled into signing voluntary resignation letters.
Ng said the workers and union members visited Choi Fook’s office last month, saying that a manager forged signatures in some of the resignation letters. He said the management staff threatened to sue them for making a false claim.
However, Choi Fook Chief Financial Officer Tang Ka-lun confirmed that three signatures appeared to be forged and called police for assistance. Police officers took away a manager in front of the workers, according to Ng.
Despite the incident, the restaurant group continued to postpone payments. Last Wednesday, the workers and labour groups staged a protest at Choi Fook’s Shatin branch.
During the protest, Tang was filmed hurling expletives at the workers. Other restaurant employees stopped him charging at the protesters.
The company’s managing director Ho Kin agreed to meet with the group. During the negotiation, a manager standing by said the protesters were there to “cause trouble,” InMedia reported.
Ho said he had asked the head chef to tell the workers that the company intended to retain them despite the renovation work, though the workers said they had never been informed of the plan.
The parties eventually reached an agreement, with Choi Fook promising to pay outstanding salaries and give severance payment to five of the workers who qualified for the amount. Ho said the company understood that the workers were misled into signing the voluntary resignation letters.
Despite the agreement, Ho said the company reserved the right to take legal action against the chef union, unless the union took down social media posts related to the incident.
Ng, the union leader, criticised the attitude of the management throughout the saga. “We have never seen such an attitude from any company before,” he said. “If other companies handle labour disputes like Choi Fook, this will be very bad for Hong Kong.”
“The workers were just asking for what they were owed. The company was bullying them – this is unacceptable.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker Lau Siu-lai also criticised Choi Fook’s employee for swearing at the workers in addition to postponing wage payments. “The Labour Department is a toothless tiger,” she added.
Choi Fook did not return calls or emails from HKFP.