05/03/2011, 00.00
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Minimum wage legislation approved

Trade union leader and LegCo member Lee Cheuk-yan tells AsiaNews that “the era of worker exploitation is over.” The new law, which is opposed by business groups, will immediately benefit 270,000 workers.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – “The era that employers could squeeze blood and tears out of the lowest paid sectors of society is now over,” Lee Cheuk-yan, a long time union leader and Member of the Hong Kong Legislature, told AsiaNews as he spoke about the new revolutionary law imposing a minimum hourly wage.

“A lot of work remains to be done, but we are happy for this first step. Now we must work to ensure that it is extended as far as possible and be vigilant that businesses do not use any contract tricks,” added Lee, who heads one of the oldest unions on Chinese soil.

After a fight involving workers, union, business groups and Hong Kong authorities, the local government adopted legislation that sets a minimum hourly wage.

The new law will benefit 270,000 low-paid workers, or around 10 per cent of the working population of the former British crown colony who will now earn HK$ 28 (US$ 3.60) per hour.

Most Asian nations, except Singapore, in principle have minimum wages.

In Hong Kong, the struggle was won thanks to pressures from civil society groups.

For business groups, the decision is a mistake that will raise costs. Critics add that the law will undermine the territory’s traditional free market spirit.

However, the situation had become unbearable. Many employers had been able to force changes to contracts so as not to pay for lunch breaks and holidays. Now sanitation workers, security guards and restaurant employees (the groups covered by the law) will be guaranteed minimum government standards.

The legislation does not cover the territory's almost 300,000 domestic helpers, who are not protected because their wages are regulated by private contracts with employers.

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