Editorial Minimum Wage Should Be Reviewed Annually

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via Editorial Minimum Wage Should Be Reviewed Annually.

【明報專訊】THE MINIMUM WAGE COMMISSION has come to an agreement over the hourly minimum wage rate, which is to increase from the current $28 to $30. It will submit its report to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and it is expected that the recommended increase will be accepted. This means that about 330,000 lower-paid workers will get pay rises this year.

A minimum wage was introduced in Hong Kong in May last year. At first, there were fears that this would force many firms out of business and push up the unemployment rate. But such fears have proved unfounded, and Hong Kong’s economy as a whole has not suffered. The unemployment rate published by the government a few days ago stood at 3.2 percent – or close to full employment.

The Minimum Wage Commission’s review of the statutory minimum wage has sparked much controversy. There are employers who argue that, with the current uncertain economic outlook, the minimum wage should not be increased, since there can be no going back once an increase is made. Employees, on the other hand, point out that the minimum wage must be adjusted to factor in the inflation rate over the past three years, stressing that the current hourly rate of $28 was fixed according to the mid-2009 data and is now totally unrealistic. Some (including political groups) have gone so far as to demand that the hourly rate be increased to $35. However, if one considers the issue according to the objective figures published by the Census and Statistics Department, one will agree that an hourly rate of $30 is acceptable to the public and beneficial to the lower-paid.

Take for example the “estate management, security and cleaning services" industry. The industry’s expenses in wages will increase by $640 million (about 2.9 percent) if the hourly rate is increased to $30, but will increase by $2.68 billion (about 12 percent) if the rate is increased to $35. As for the “restaurants" industry, the expenses in wages will increase by $190 million (about 0.6 percent) if the hourly rate is increased to $30, but will increase by $1.37 billion (about 6.3 percent) if the rate is increased to $35. These figures show clearly that an hourly rate of $35 will constitute a crushing burden for the two industries, and many firms will be forced either to go out of business or steeply raise their fees and charges, which will boost inflation and increase the ordinary citizens’ financial burden noticeably. Seen in the light of the above data, the demand for an hourly rate of $35 is simply unrealistic.

Increasing the hourly rate from $28 to $30, on the other hand, is both practicable and appropriate. First, the increase is not insignificant since about 330,000 lower-paid workers will benefit. Second, it means an increase of 7.1 percent, which is not very low, but neither is it very high compared with the inflation rate recorded over the last two years.

In this first review of the minimum wage, the Minimum Wage Commission members have come to a compromise only after a month’s discussion, in which the employers’ and employees’ representatives sharply disagreed with one another. Taking into consideration the two sides’ different situations and expectations, we would like to make the following proposals:

(1) A review should be conducted once a year instead of once every two years, so that employers and employees can more accurately assess the economic factors of the time, including the inflation rate, and decide on the hourly minimum wage rate more realistically.

(2) The review mechanism should be so revised as to make the Minimum Wage Commission’s deliberation more objective and firmly based on reliable data. Let rationality and practicability govern the operation of the commission.

明報社評 2012.09.26﹕最低工資調整 應研議一年一檢

最低工資委員會就調整最低工資水平達成共識,時薪由28元加至30元,委員會將向行政長官梁振英提交報告,相信他會接納委員會的共識,使約33萬低收入人士得以加薪。

本港去年5月起實施最低工資制度,原先有人擔心會掀起結業潮、推高失業率,事實並未出現,整體經濟情况未受衝擊,日前政府公布最新失業率維持在3.2%低水平,接近全民就業。

這 次最低工資水平檢討,商界有意見認為不應增加,因為經濟前景不明朗,加了時薪之後就不可能減;勞工界認為28元時薪是按2009年中的數據訂出,計及3年 來的通脹因素,這個水平已經大為落後,所以,時薪一定要調整,個別(包括政團)爭取加至35元。用政府統計處的客觀數據去檢視,就知道時薪加至30元是社 會可以承受,也使低收入人士受惠的水平。

以「物業管理、保安及清潔」行業為例,若時薪加至30元,業界薪酬開支增加6.4億元(約增 2.9%),若加至35元,薪酬開支增加26.8億元(約增12%);至於「飲食業」時薪加至30元,薪酬開支增加1.9億元(約增0.6%),若加至 35元,薪酬開支增加13.7億元(約增6.3%)。從這些數字,說明現階段時薪加至35元,對物業管理、保安及清潔和飲食業都是不可承受之重,會導致大 量公司結業,若它們要營運下去,則要大幅增加收費和加價,會加重市民負擔和推高通脹,所以,要求時薪加至35元,在數據面前就顯得務虛而非務實。

時薪加至30元,是務實而恰當的選擇。首先,時薪30元,約有33萬名低收入人士受惠,使新時薪顯得有實質意義。另外,時薪28元加至30元,加幅約7.1%,不算低,但與這兩年累積的通脹比較,這個加幅不算高。

首次檢討最低工資水平,雖然委員會最終達成共識,但是一個月來所見,勞資成員各走極端。因應勞資雙方的處境和心態,我們提出兩點建議:

(1)檢討年期由兩年一檢縮短為一年一檢,勞資雙方更掌握通脹和經濟盛衰的狀况,就可以更務實地看待時薪水平。

(2)研議調整機制,再加重客觀成分,讓數據說話,讓理性務實成為最低工資水平的慣常操作。

Glossary

outlook﹕the probable future for somebody/something; what is likely to happen

go so far as to﹕to be willing to go to extreme or surprising limits in dealing with something

deliberation﹕the process of carefully considering or discussing something

聲檔 english.mingpao.com/critic.htm

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