"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Mrs Choi would need to work over 35 years to take home what Carrie Lam makes in a year."
Mrs Choi works a 12-hour shift, six-days a week, cleaning corridors, windows, door handles and ledges. With the onset of Covid-19 this year, her workload doubled. Enhanced precautions, mandated by her employer, required Mrs Choi to clean designated areas every 30 minutes. She now has only 20 minutes for lunch and no other breaks.
This middle-aged lady is part of the small army, the unrecognised heroes, who've helped keep us safe. Their relentless attention to hygiene in communal areas, on the streets and in public toilets is exemplary.
And yet, Mrs Choi is on the minimum wage of HK$37.5 per hour and unlikely to see any increase soon. Indeed, that's the case if the Federation of Hong Kong Industries has its way. Once again they are summoning up apocalyptic tales of collapsing businesses if wages rise by one cent
We've heard the same from them when the government introduced a minimum wage in 2010. Listening to their howls, you'd think life as we know it was about to end. It didn't happen. They adapted, and businesses prospered, as things soon settled down. Yes, there are pros and cons to the minimum wage debate; there is also fairness.
Mrs Choi and her cohort are amongst the poorest in this affluent city. Despite a lifetime of hard work, they're unable to save as their salaries don't cover the rising cost of living. By comparison, the hourly UK rate is HK$64- and in New York, it's HK$116.2-. Granted, other factors are at play overseas, yet by any measure, Hong Kong's rate is low.
Meanwhile, the government has thrown billions of dollars into industries that are not suffering the impacts of Covid-19. The supermarkets that have enjoyed a surge in business, as people dined at home, is the most egregious example. In the latest round of government aid, HK$24- billion is on offer, but not a penny going directly to those on the lowest wage.
Instead, businesses will pocket the money, and we have no way of knowing how it's spent. Even our slumbering Consumer Council awoke and felt it necessary to intervene in the supermarket malarkey.
In a laughable statement, Kwok Chun-wah of the Labour Advisory Board commented 'employers and employees are sharing the hardship'. Really Mr Kwok? It's not evident that employers are transferring any of the hardship to senior staff. Instead, the pain falls to the lowest paid.
Don't forget that Hong Kong has one of the highest levels of income inequality on the planet, a fact that may have contributed to last year's civil unrest. Any responsible government would be looking to narrow that gap even at such a critical time, especially when you need the low paid to keep us all safe through their diligence. Carrie Lam, our Chief Executive, earns about HK$5- million per annum. Mrs Choi would need to work over 35 years to take home what Carrie Lam makes in a year.
I wonder can the government assure us that hard-earned public funds thrown at oligarchs isn't lining the pockets of the top end? Added to that, a system of tendering that encourages a 'race-to-the-bottom', means companies feel the pressure to put in low bids. In the process, they shortchange their workers.
In Covid-19's inversion of the status hierarchy, many of the truly 'key workers' turned out not be the bankers, flash-money men or wheeler-dealers, but those who did not go to college or less able to pass exams. One hopes that these folks, whose vitally important jobs we viewed as low status, will enjoy better condition and pay. They also merit our admiration.
Our profligate government could adopt various strategies that ensure support reaches the needy. Direct payment to workers on minimum wage is one option, likewise enhanced transport subsidies or special tax concessions.
Mrs Choi deserves better, including some dignity for her contribution during this crisis. A fine start would be making sure that handouts land in her pocket. Come on, Carrie Lam, have some common decency!
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.