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No more Gaps:Reward work with just wages

【明報專訊】How much do you usually spend on breakfast? You can probably find something decently filling for under $30 at a cha chaan teng, but have you ever thought that someone who has a job might be unable to afford this?

We recently interviewed a mother in a household of five who told us that if she were to spend $20 on breakfast for two people in her family every day, she would need to take out a loan. She, however, is a security guard — she works, yet she and her family are struggling to get by. She and too many others — 920,000 to be exact — make up the working poor people and face similarly frustrating circumstances.

Currently, many of these workers make the minimum wage: $34.5, or a few more dollars if they are lucky. This rate, however, is only reviewed biennially and increases in increments too small to catch up with inflation. In fact, the purchasing power of the current minimum wage (i.e. $26.6) is lower than that of the minimum wage in 2010 (i.e. $28), when the minimum wage was first introduced.

That is why Oxfam is pushing for the implementation of the living wage in Hong Kong, starting with the government — the largest employer of outsourced, low-income workers — and employers who are able. The living wage, unlike the minimum wage which is regulated by law and is paid voluntarily by employers, takes workers and their families' basic needs into account and guarantees a decent standard of living. Based on a recent study Oxfam Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong conducted, the local living wage rate should be $54.7. Paying workers this would enable them to take care of basic expenses like food, housing, transportation and unforeseen events, like an illness. This, however, is nothing new — the Living Wage Movement has been spreading across the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US since the 2000s.

The working poor are people we meet every day: street cleaners, security guards, cashiers, waiters. By paying them $54.7/hour, the government and employers who are able would ensure workers and their families meet their basic needs and help realise a more equitable society.

Earning enough to sustain a decent standard of living is a right, not a luxury nor charity. It is time workers are paid a just wage — a living wage.

■By Oxfam Hong Kong

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