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CS' transcript


Following is the transcript of remarks (English only) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, to the media after attending the LegCo House Committee special meeting this (February 28) afternoon:

Reporter: Why not just put a $9,600 thing on the employers, leave the minimum wage alone? And then you also raised a point about the effect on local wages. I wonder if you could give me a comprehensive answer on that?

CS: There is an option, whether you have this minimum allowable wage at all, but we have had this tradition for 30 years, the aim of which was to protect the wages of the local workers. The question is, once you remove that minimum allowable wage, will the wages given to foreign domestic helpers suddenly plummet, to the extent that other work related to that type of work, the wages will be affected as well. That's the question we need to analyse before we change the present system, which seems to be working reasonably well.

Reporter: That's the argument in favour of keeping some kind of minimum wage. The other question is why not just put a $9,600 imposition on the employers and leave the minimum wage as it is alone so that it doesn't even appear that it's the amahs at the end of the day who are having to bear the brunt?

CS: There are two different issues altogether. When you talk about the minimum allowable wage of the foreign domestic helpers, we adjusted the wage according to the well-established practice. We have had this minimum allowable wage for 30 years, since 1973 according to my record, and we have been reviewing the wage level every year. Over the past 30 years we have frozen the wages for a number of years because of the lack of wage movement, but we did change the wage level 18 times, 17 of which there was an increase, once there was a reduction. On one particular occasion in fact, in 1979, the increase was as much as 26.7 percent. As far as the latest move is concerned, we allow the wage to fall by $400 to reflect a market movement. The last change took place in 1999, since then there has been a lowering of the cost of living by 10 percent and there was also a reduction by 16 percent in respect of the median wage of industrial workers. So it seems that there are ample justifications for Mr. Stephen Ip, who took the decision, that $400 reduction on this occasion was appropriate. As I said, if you look at the historical context, this has all been proper and is not unusual at all.

Reporter: But coming at the same time as the $9600 imposition on the levy, it's going on the employer, it appears to everyone that that's going to be passed along to the domestic helper and that it ends up being a levy on her, rather than on the employer.

CS: The thing to remember is the proposal we made will not affect any existing contract. So any Filipino maid, any foreign domestic helper's contract at the present moment will not be affected by what we do. It only applies to new contracts to be entered.

End/Friday, February 28, 2003


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