05/03/2010, 00.00
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May 1: Minimum wages and hours as workers get poorer

by Annie Lam
Demands for a minimum wage of 3.2 Euros per hour. Catholics and Protestants in the forefront in defending the dignity of work. More than 160 000 Hong Kong households live on less than 400 Euros per month. In Macao, demonstration degenerates with clashes between police and workers.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Thousands of Hong Kong residents demonstrated on 1 May asking for laws that guarantee a minimum hourly pay of 33 Hong Kong dollars (about 3.2 Euros). Journalists also many Catholics were among the demonstrators and, underlining that the Church's social doctrine imposes a minimum wage linked to human dignity.

Several groups have also demanded collective agreements and payment of overtime, when in excess of eight hours per day, while there is a growing disparity between rich and poor.

In Macao the workers march, organized by a dozen groups, gathered together at least 1,500 people, demanding the end of illegal work and better conditions of employment. Some workers and some journalists were injured in a clash with security forces who wanted the demonstration route to move to secondary roads.

In Hong Kong, protesters also demanded universal suffrage and full democracy in the territory. The event was supported by the confederation of trade unions, social organizations, Catholic and Protestant students, and groups in favour of women’s rights, construction workers and political parties.

Lina Chan Li-na, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Committee of the diocese, told AsiaNews that several workers in the area earn less than 3 Euros per hour and are exhausted from long working hours. "We Catholics - she said - continue to fight for decent pay because the social doctrine of the Church requires fair wages and full human dignity in the workplace."

According to the Protestant based Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, at least 160 000 households have a monthly salary of less than 4 thousand HK dollars (less than 400 Euros), compared to 2008, and in 2009 they increased by 3.9% .

The Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs organized a Way of the Cross for workers and their conditions. In a statement on April 30, it denounced that the government refuses to pass a law setting maximum working hours, forcing many local employees to do overtime. More than one million people work over 48 hours per week.

The event was also attended by foreign immigrants, including Nepalese, Filipinos and Indonesians, who demand higher pay and full employment.

Even local journalists are calling for better pay and press freedom. Some representatives of the association of journalists have asked the owners of newspapers for higher pay and better working conditions as well as for a five day working week.

The Hong Kong government is to propose a decree for the minimum wage. Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, said he hopes to fast track the launch of the norm. But he also stated that the government will not support a mandatory annual review of wages to allow more flexibility.

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