英文

Editorial:Raising minimum wage level

【明報專訊】Employees and employers have failed to reach a consensus on the statutory minimum wage level for next year. Whether the wage level should be revised upwards or frozen is now the government's decision to make. Under the regulations, the minimum wage level should be reviewed biyearly. In the past, it was usually adjusted to correspond with inflation over the previous two years and other factors. Thus, employees have reason to demand retroactive adjustments to safeguard the rights of grassroots wage earners. However, employers and some academics are worried about the continued economic downturn amid the pandemic and whether an upward revision of the wage level will add to the burden of employers. If employers have to lay off staff to control costs, the problem of unemployment will be exacerbated instead.

The statutory minimum wage policy was implemented in 2011. A minimum wage committee comprised of employees, employers and academics reviews the wage level every two years and submits recommendations to the government. In the past four reviews by the committee, all sides came to a consensus invariably despite some see-sawing in the negotiation process. The minimum wage increased from HK$28 to HK$37.5 after some twists and turns. This year, however, the committee has failed to achieve a consensus after two rounds of meetings, a situation that has never happened before. Employees have urged the government to intervene and persuade employers to accept wage rises. Most committee members, including employers and academics, incline to the view that it should be frozen. The ball is now in the government's court. If the authorities decide to freeze the minimum wage, it will be the first such action since the minimum wage policy came into effect.

At present, about 20,000 people in Hong Kong receive the minimum wage, most of them front-line grassroots employees such as cleaners and security guards. The pandemic has hit the economy hard, but rents and consumer prices have not dropped significantly, making the lives of grassroots citizens difficult. Take, for example, cleaners in public organisations. Most of them receive minimum wages and work eight to ten hours a day with a monthly salary of less than HK$10,000. Amid the pandemic, many companies have stricter cleaning and disinfection requirements, and the workload of cleaners has increased. Some companies, however, have not provided sufficient masks. If cleaners want to have several changes of masks at work, they will have to spend extra money to prepare the masks themselves.

Employers and the government have a responsibility to show more sympathy towards grassroots wage earners. Of course, the situation under the pandemic is very special, and the pros and cons have to be weighed up to decide whether the minimum wage level should be raised. The minimum wage level is a ''lagging'' indicator to a certain extent. Employees are proposing an increase to HK$40 so as to cover the inflation rate over the previous two years. However, the outbreak of the pandemic has complicated considerations. It is necessary to look both retrospectively and prospectively.

If the government believes that it must focus on the macroeconomic situation and unemployment and freeze the minimum wage level, it should consider other ways to support grassroots workers to reduce their burden in their daily lives. If the government decides to raise the minimum wage level despite the pandemic so as to cover the inflation over the past two years, it can take other measures to help affected employers cope with the pandemic and avoid a wave of layoffs and closures. In any case, the government needs to decide not only whether to raise or freeze the minimum wage, but also to consider the follow-up relief efforts and provide additional support for those whose interests have to be sacrificed.

明報社評 2020.09.28:最低工資檢討陷兩難 疫下基層困頓須援手

明年法定最低工資水平,勞資雙方無法達成共識,上調還是凍結,有待政府拍板。最低工資水平按規例「兩年一檢」,以往一般會因應之前兩年通脹等因素調整,勞方有理由要求追落後,維護基層打工仔,可是資方和一些學者憂慮的,卻是疫下經濟持續低迷,上調最低工資引起連鎖效應,令僱主百上加斤,一旦要控制成本裁員,反而加劇失業。

法定最低工資2011年實施,勞方、資方及學者組成的最低工資委員會,每兩年檢討一次,並向政府提交建議。委員會以往4次檢討,談判過程縱有拉鋸,最終均能就上調最低工資達成共識,由最初28元輾轉增至37.5元。今年委員會經歷兩輪會議仍無共識,情况前所未見,勞方促請政府介入,游說僱主接受加薪,資方和學者在內的多數委員則傾向凍結。皮球落到政府場區,倘若當局拍板凍薪,將是最低工資生效以來首次。

目前全港約2萬人領取最低工資,大部分為清潔工人及保安等前線基層員工。疫情打擊經濟,租金及物價卻未見明顯下跌,基層市民生活艱難。以公營機構的清潔工為例,大部分均是領取最低工資,每日工作8至10小時,月薪不足1萬元。疫下不少公司對清潔消毒要求更嚴格,清潔工人工作量增加,部分公司卻未有提供充裕口罩,清潔工上班如想有多些口罩替換,就要額外花錢自備。

多些體恤基層打工仔是老闆和政府的責任。當然,疫下情况特殊,現在應否上調最低工資水平,亦要想清楚利弊。最低工資水平,某程度屬「滯後」數字,現在勞方提倡上調至40元,理由便是追回之前兩年的通脹幅度。可是疫情的出現,卻令考慮變得複雜,除了「往回看」,亦要「向前望」。

倘若政府認為,必須從宏觀經濟和失業狀况着眼,凍結最低工資水平,當局應考慮以其他方法,補貼基層打工仔,減輕受影響基層市民的生活壓力;倘若政府決定疫下須調高,讓最低工資水平追回過去兩年通脹幅度,可以採取其他措施,協助受影響僱主應付「疫境」,避免裁員潮倒閉潮。無論如何,政府需要決定的,不止是上調還是凍結最低工資,還要考慮之後的紓困跟進,為需要犧牲的一方,提供額外支援。

■/ Glossary 生字 /

biyearly /baɪˈjɪəlɪ/:every two years; biennial or biennially

incline /ɪnˈklaɪn/:to tend to think or behave in a particular way; to make sb do this

change:an extra set of clothes, etc

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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