HK$19.70 an hour! That’s the scandalously low hourly wage paid to young workers at some outlets of Cafe de Coral, one of Hong Kong’s major fast-food chains. Other fast-food restaurants such as KFC and McDonald’s also pay rock bottom rates and this has to change. This was the message of a protest action organised by Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong) against Cafe de Coral management at one of their busiest branches, in Sai Yeung Choi Street in Monglok. Our protest was covered in around ten newspapers, including Apple Daily, Mingpao, Orient Daily, Sun, AM730, HKheadline and Metro, and also featured on TV news and Commercial radio
Chants of “$33 minimum wage, no compromise!” echoed across the busy pedestrian shopping street, along with, “young workers join a union – unions should get militant.” The action on 4 July targeted Cafe de Coral because its Chairman, Michael Chan Yue Kwong, serves on the government’s Provisional Minimum Wage Commission, which within days will announce the level at which Hong Kong’s first statutory minimum wage will be set. This says a lot about Hong Kong politics – that bosses in low-pay branches such as fast food are empowered by the government to set the level of the minimum wage, ostensibly to place a limit on their own abuses. Hong Kong, with the world’s highest per capita income, has a huge and growing army of “working poor”. Half a million workers – around one in five of the workforce – are paid less than HK$5,000 (US$641) per month.
Trade unions in Hong Kong are demanding a HK$33 hourly minimum. Socialists support this, as an absolute minimum, pointing out that even this is not enough. As the decision on the minimum wage is only days away, and bosses’ lobby groups are pushing for a measly HK$24 rate, we believe pressure must be stepped up to achieve at least HK$33, no compromise! Socialist Action has raised the demand that union leaders should call a one-day citywide strike of “grassroots” (i.e. low-paid) workers to put more muscle into this demand.
Around 20 youth took part in the protest at Cafe de Coral, with Legco member “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and the LSD also lending support. There was evident sympathy from passers by, many who crowded round to listen to speeches and sign petitions. After half an hour, the protest, led by “Long Hair” and followed by dozens of journalists and several TV crews, threaded its way up to the first floor restaurant, where it took centre stage in front of the service counter. Leaflets were handed out to overwhelmingly sympathetic diners and speeches and slogans echoed around the cafeteria. Socialist action vowed to continue the protests next week, to keep the pressure upon the government and capitalists.