Pay freeze to hammer builders

Top News | Cissy So 16 Oct 2019

A general union for construction workers has recommended that wages be frozen in view of the industry's rising unemployment rate.

This is the first time in 12 years that the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union has made the recommendation and comes after the jobless rate for builders climbed to 5 percent from January to August.

The union suggested the pay freeze for the industry - covering 15 different trades, including concrete pouring and bar bending - to start on November 1.

The union said the move is rare and that it was forced to come to the decision.

The last wage freeze was in 2007 - a fallout of the SARS crisis in 2003.

But the union said the situation now is "man-made and more serious than the SARS period."

It attributed the cause to filibustering by opposition lawmakers in the Legislative Council that held up funding approval for more than HK$70 billion of public construction projects by the finance committee.

That affected the livelihood of 350,000 people who are supported by the industry, the union said.

Meanwhile, the Minimum Wage Commission is closely monitoring the impact of the unrest on wages.

It would not rule out the possibility that the next minimum wage - to come into effect in May 2021 - would remain the same, said Priscilla Wong Pui-sze, chairwoman of the commission.

When Wong was asked whether the minimum wage would remain frozen or be adjusted downward, she said "the commission adopts an evidence-based approach where we review in a comprehensive, objective and balanced manner."

She added: "We need to take social factors as considerations. Anything is possible. There's no statement or regulation that the minimum wage must be added, subtracted or maintained."

Wong said there is a series of data for reference which included business operation and intention, labor costs, and more.

The minimum wage rate was established in 2011 and revised every two years.

The rate was raised from HK$34.50 to HK$37.50 and came into effect on May 1 this year, a rise of 8.7 percent.

Wong said the impact of the protests is still unknown and that the commission does not have the economic indicators yet but would closely monitor the situation.

According to official statistics, total employment has increased by 320,000 people in the period from June to August compared to the employment numbers before the establishment of the minimum wage. Of the increase, 260,000 of them were women.

Wong believes the minimum wage rate is effective and that inflation is one of the considerations but not the only one.

A member of the commission, Chan Wing-on, who is from the catering industry, said it is difficult to predict when the protests would end and how it would affect the minimum wage rate.

Chan hopes the unrest would be settled soon and social order restored.

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