Nine years ago, Yin Man-on, aged 67, worked 14 hours a day for HK$7 (not even US$1) an hour at a public toilet. He also lived in the toilet. His boss was a contractor working for the government, who allowed Yin to leave the toilet only for two one-hour meal breaks. The boss threatened to fire him if he was caught leaving the toilet outside of these two break times.
This case, when exposed in the media, had sparked the minimum wage movement in Hong Kong, but until today, there is no legislation in Hong Kong yet on minimum wage, though a minimum wage bill is set to be passed this summer. The pro-business government did not want a minimum wage law until very recent years. It launched a voluntary “wage protection movement” in 2006 but received a lukewarm response. Consequently it turned to a minimum wage bill for all occupations.
What will be Hong Kong’s minimum wage then? The unions want HK$33 (US$4.2) an hour but this is very unlikely given the strong opposition and the influence of the business sector, which seems to accept a level not higher than HK$24 (US$3).
You must have come across a 7-Eleven convenience store in Hong Kong, The workers there earn an average of HK$23.4 (US$3) an hour, with the lowest paid workers earning HK$20 (US$2.6) an hour, according to a recent survey. Another convenience store chain Circle K and supermarket chain Welcome offer their staff $23.9 (US$3.1) an hour. How can you possibly “live” with that paltry wage in a city as expensive as Hong Kong?
Securities guards and cleaners are also among the city’s lowest paid workers.