A Hong Kong labour union said the reportedly proposed increase of the city’s minimum wage to HK$40 is insufficient for protecting the livelihoods of the grassroots, suggesting a wage of HK$46 instead.

The Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions (HKFLU) said in a press statement on Friday that around 14,000 people currently earn the minimum wage. Most of them are cleaners and security guards, who deserved respect as workers on the frontlines of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Coronavirus covid-19 virus street cleaner
A street cleaner in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

“[The HKFLU] believes that the minimum wage should be increased to not less than $46, which is a reasonable wage level for grassroots employees that will allow them to afford their daily basic living expenses,” the statement read.

“As the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics last year has proved, increasing the minimum wage does not reduce employment,” it continued.

Local media outlets reported on Thursday that the Minimum Wage Commission had reached a consensus of raising the current minimum wage of HK$37.50 to HK$40, an increase of around 6.7 per cent.

After being approved by the Executive Council, the hike is expected to come into force in May.

The city’s minimum wage has remained frozen since 2019. Authorities did not adjust the minimum wage during the most recent review in 2021, citing the poor economic outlook.

NGO Oxfam said last week that the pandemic had worsened Hong Kong’s wealth gap, with the city’s poorest households making 47 times less than its richest. The gap has reached a “tipping point,” according to Oxfam’s director general Kalina Tsang.

Increase only minimal

Anthony Yau, the vice-chairperson of the Rights and Benefits Committee of the pro-Beijing party Hong Kong Federation of Trade Union (HKFTU), told HKFP that the increase of the minimum wage to HK$40 was “only just” able to catch up with inflationary pressures.

“[The HKFTU] cannot do anything but accept this increase,” Yau said, adding that the scale of the hike was minimal given that the wage has not changed since 2019.

Anthony Yau Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions petition minimum wage
Anthony Yau, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Union’s Rights and Benefits Committee, on August 26, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

He added that the monthly subsidies for a four-person family under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, the government’s welfare scheme, would be higher than the earnings of a family working on a minimum wage of HK$40.

“It seems the government’s view is that one can have a better life on government subsidies than going out to work,” he said.

Yau added that the party hoped authorities would review the minimum wage every year, instead of every two years.

cleaner sanitation worker
A Hong Kong sanitation worker. Photo: Oxfam Hong Kong.

The Minimum Wage Commission, whose recommendations inform minimum wage adjustments, is tasked with submitting a report to the government by the end of October ahead of a review the following year. In the past, revised minimum wages have come into effect on May 1.

According to its website, the commission aims to “maintain an appropriate balance” between “forestalling excessively low ages and minimising the loss of low-paid jobs,” as well as sustaining Hong Kong’s competitiveness.

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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.