Hong Kong: Minimum wage of HK$28-29 is not enough!

Protests needed: "The Provisional Minimum Wage Commission does not speak for us!"

After 18 months the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission set up by government has reached a "unanimous" decision on how much to set the new minimum wage which comes into law from next year. The 13-person commission has not divulged the hourly amount, but Hong Kong news media say the commission united on either HK$28 or HK$29.

The Provisional Minimum Wage Commission has shown its true colours. This proposal is an insult to grassroots workers! Rather than an "impartial" body of experts, as the government want us to believe, the commission is a gigantic deception. Of its 13 members only three represent unions and these three representatives have all broken with the main demand of their respective organisations (HKFTU and HKCTU) for a minimum hourly wage of HK$33.

The union "representatives" have gone along with the charade – to their eternal shame! Their organisations, especially the HKCTU, should publicly disown them for this. The role of HKCTU Ex-President, Lau Chin-shek, is especially shameful. It is now clear why Donald Tsang appointed Lau to the commission, when he evidently does not stand for one of the union’s most important policies. Any union representative worthy of the name would have withdrawn from the commission rather than drop below the figure of HK$33, which is the absolute minimum, from which their can be no compromise!

Likewise, the HKCTU and all organisations that are serious about fighting for the HK$33 minimum, must come out clearly against the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission and expose it as an institution hostile to workers and a tool of the government and the capitalists. Just one incident in recent days helps to demolish the carefully concocted myth that the commission is a "neutral" body. One of its members, Michael Chan Yue-kwong, the executive chairman of Cafe de Coral Holdings, threatened staff layoffs if the minimum wage was HK$33 per hour. And this we are told is "impartiality"!

Donald Tsang can now hide behind the "unanimous" decision of the commission. It is only an advisory body and theoretically there is the possibility that Tsang could opt for a different level. But this is extremely unlikely. Tsang can shield himself from criticism over the low level of the minimum wage by shifting the responsibility onto the commission – including the union members upon it!

This is why protests are needed immediately, to unmask the real role of the commission and condemn the action of its unionist members. The call should go up, especially from members and activists within the HKCTU, that "The Provisional Minimum Wage Commission does not speak for us""!

It is now urgent that a real campaign is launched including demonstrations, public forums, and a mass unionisation drive in low-pay sectors such as fast-food and catering.

Both the HKCTU and HKFTU have called for a minimum hourly wage of HK$33. Even this is nowhere near a living wage. Socialist Action calls for a minimum wage that is two-thirds of the median wage, around HK$40 per hour. But given the unions’ call for HK$33, we agree to support this demand now as a bottom line, around which a mass campaign should be conducted.

Some union leaders will undoubtedly argue that now is not the right time to struggle, that the commission’s decision will not be changed, and to shift the focus instead onto demanding an annual review process rather than less frequent upgrading as demanded by bosses’ groups. These union leaders may argue that this is just the start and pressure should be built up for an increase to 33 in one or two years. For such "leaders" there is never a good time to fight, always an excuse to wait. But the low-paid cannot afford to wait!

We call for a one-day city-wide strike of grassroots workers to demand immediate implementation of a HK$33 minimum wage, and to show that "The Provisional Minimum Wage Commission does not speak for us!"

Socialist Action calls for the wage law to include all workers including migrants and youth.

No struggle, no justice!

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September 2010