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LCQ3: Minimum Wage Ordinance

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (May 18):


     Quite a number of members of the public have reflected to me that before the Minimum Wage Ordinance came into operation on  May 1 this year, quite a number of "unscrupulous" and "callous" employers had resorted to every conceivable means to deduct their employees' wages in respect of meal breaks and rest days by revising employment contracts, or even reduce and restrict the paid time for their employees' toilet breaks, and quite a number of members of the public were dismissed by their "unscrupulous employers".  A member of the public has also complained to me that, in response to the appeals made by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare on radio programmes, he had sought assistance from the Labour Department (LD) in negotiating with his employer on issues relating to minimum wage, but this had resulted in his immediate dismissal by the employer.  The complainant has remarked that seeking assistance from LD was just like a "suicidal" act.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government will promptly introduce legislative amendments to include employees' meal breaks, rest days and toilet breaks as paid time; if so, when it will introduce such amendments; if not, of the reasons for that;

(b) what new measures the Government has to protect all Hong Kong employees from being exploited by their employers by means of deducting their wages in respect of meal breaks and rest days as well as reducing the paid time for their toilet breaks; and the number of prosecutions instituted against those "unscrupulous employers" who exploit their employees by the aforesaid means; and

(c) whether the Government has any effective measure to guarantee that employees seeking assistance from LD in negotiations with their employers over issues relating to minimum wage will not be dismissed immediately; if it has, of the details; if not, how the Government will make members of the public feel that they have nothing to worry in seeking assistance from LD?



     My reply to the three parts of the question raised by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung is set out below:

(a) Neither the Minimum Wage Ordinance (MWO) nor the Employment Ordinance (EO) prescribes that meal break, rest days and other rest breaks are with pay or not.  All along, employers and employees may, depending on the circumstances of individual enterprises or personal needs, agree on their employment terms, including whether meal breaks, rest days and other rest breaks are paid or not.

     As the situations vary for different industries and enterprises, and given the diverse personal needs of individual employees, it would be inappropriate to legislate for paid meal breaks, rest days and other rest breaks across the board.

(b) If meal breaks, rest days or other rest breaks are all along with pay in accordance with the employment contract or agreement, employers should not unilaterally vary the employment terms.  Otherwise, the employees may file claim against their employers in accordance with the EO.  If existing employment terms in these respects need to be clarified or updated because they are unclear or employers have genuine problems in shouldering the financial burden, there should be thorough staff consultation with a view to gaining mutual understanding and reaching consensus on lawful, reasonable and sensible grounds through labour-management communication and negotiation.  LD would help and conciliate where necessary.

     To tie in with the implementation of the MWO, LD conducts proactive workplace inspections to establishments of various trades and mounts targeted enforcement for low-paying sectors to safeguard employees' statutory benefits.  During workplace inspections, labour inspectors would explain to employers and employees the requirements of the MWO.  Should irregularities be detected, we will require employers to take appropriate measures to comply with the MWO including paying any shortfall of wages to employees.  LD will also enhance the publicity of its complaint hotline (2815 2200) to encourage employees to report suspected breaches.  All complaints received will be followed up and investigated promptly.  LD will take enforcement action against wilful breaches of the law.

(c) Employees are valuable asset of an enterprise.  We encourage employers to maintain harmonious labour relations by treating their employees well.  As for employees who approach LD for assistance, we encourage the employers and employees concerned to adopt a positive attitude in resolving their differences amicably.  Where there is sufficient evidence that an employer has breached the law wilfully, LD will take enforcement action against the employer.  We believe that most employers are rational.  They would appreciate that only through sincere communication and consultation with employees can problems be resolved, and employees' sense of belonging and productivity be enhanced, thereby facilitating the operation and business of the enterprises.  This would ultimately result in a win-win situation for both employers and employees.

Ends/Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:17


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