A restaurant group that abruptly shut down nine eateries last week owes workers around HK$5 million, a labour union says.

Speaking on an RTHK radio show on Tuesday, the head secretary of the Eating Establishment Employees General Union, Wong Pit-man, said the union was currently assisting over a hundred workers at branches of Mee Lemongrass, Kokonoi Shokudo and Ma La Niang Zi to recover overdue salaries and pension contributions.

A Ma La Niang Zi outlet in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: Openrice.

“We have not been able to contact the owners of the restaurants yet,” Wong said.

The nine eateries are part of restaurant group Asia Catering, whose website is no longer in operation. A cached version of the site from April showed that the group was founded in 2006 and operated brands including Tom Yum Tom Yum and Your Cup of Tea.

Mr. Leung, who was a kitchen worker at Ma La Niang Zi, said employees were told without warning last Wednesday at around 9 p.m. that they should not come to work the next day as the restaurant was shutting down.

“We didn’t see any signs,” he said, adding that the restaurant had not been ordering any less inventory than normal recently.

Labour Department. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

HKFP has reached out to Asia Catering for comment.

Wong said that if the union was unable to reach the restaurants’ owners, the Labour Department would open a case and take them to court. The Labour Department’s Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund would cover the unpaid wages, though it would be a “slow process” that can take over a year, Wong added.

‘All for nothing’

At a press conference by the union on Monday, employees said they were taken aback by the sudden closures and having difficulty finding new jobs at such short notice.

Mr. Cheung, who had worked at Mee Lemongrass for almost three years, said he was owed HK$100,000, according to Ming Pao newspaper.

A Mee Lemongrass outlet in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: Openrice.

“I’ve worked so hard for so long, but now it’s like it was all for nothing,” he said.

Some workers also discovered that the restaurants had not been making legally-required contributions to their Mandatory Pension Fund accounts.

The MPF Authority said on Monday that it had received four reports this month from Asia Catering employees about missing contributions, with three cases already taken to court for civil proceedings.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.