The SAR’s first statutory minimum hourly wage, HK$28 (US$3.60), came into force in May. Approximately 760,000 Hong Kong residents live under the locally defined poverty line (annual income of about HK$47,213 [US$6,053] for an individual, HK$75,598 [US$9,692] for a two-person unit, HK$100,168 [US$12,842] for a three-person family, etc.).
In practice wages were often set by employers and employer associations. Additionally, unionists alleged that workers were tricked by employers into signing contracts that changed their terms of employment to “self-employed,” and thus they were not entitled to employer-provided benefits such as paid leave, sick leave, medical insurance, workers’ compensation, or Mandatory Provident Fund payments.
The minimum wage for foreign domestic workers was HK$3,740 per month (US$482). The government’s Standard Employment Contract requires employers to provide foreign domestic workers with housing, worker’s compensation insurance, travel allowances, and food or a food allowance in addition to the minimum wage, which together provided a decent standard of living. Foreign domestic workers could be deported if dismissed. After leaving one employer, workers have two weeks to secure new employment before they must leave the SAR. Activists contended this restriction left workers vulnerable to a range of abuses from employers. Workers who pursued complaints through legal channels may be granted leave to remain; however, they were not able to work, leaving them either to live from savings or to depend on charitable assistance.
During the first six months of the year, three employers were convicted for wage offenses relating to the employment of foreign domestic workers. During the same period 75 foreign domestic workers filed criminal suits, 37 of which were against employers for maltreatment including rape (one), indecent assault (seven), and injury and serious assault (29).
There was no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. For certain groups and occupations, such as security guards and certain categories of drivers, there were regulations and guidelines on working hours and rest breaks. According to the General Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department during the year, about 17.1 percent of Hong Kong employees worked 60 hours or more per week. The law stipulates that employees are entitled to 12 days of statutory holidays and employers must not make payment in lieu of granting holidays.
Domestic workers were required to live with their employers (who do not always provide separate accommodation for the worker), which made it difficult to enforce maximum working hours per day or overtime.
The government contended that the “two-week rule” was necessary to maintain effective immigration control and prevent migrant workers from overstaying and taking up unauthorized work. Regarding maximum hours and rest periods, the government stated that the rules on these issues cover local and migrant workers. However, in its explanation of why live-in domestic helpers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained that “the distinctive working pattern--round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers--makes it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid.”
Laws exist to ensure health and safety of workers in the workplace, and these laws were effectively enforced. There is no specific legal provision allowing workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. In the first three quarters, the Labor Department’s 200 inspectors conducted 88,514 workplace inspections. There were 778 convicted summonses, resulting in fines totaling HK$6.2 million (US$800,000). In addition to prosecuting offenses under the safety legislation, the Labor Department also issued improvement notices requiring employers to remedy contraventions of safety laws within a specified period and suspension notices directing removal of imminent risks to life and limb in workplaces. During the first half of the year, the department served 607 improvement notices and 50 suspension notices.
Although worker safety and health continued to improve, serious problems remained, particularly in the construction industry. In the first quarter of the year, the Labor Department reported 19,163 occupational injuries, including 6,436 classified as industrial accidents. In the same period there were 13 fatal industrial accidents. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents. Labor activists raised the issue of the increase in deadly industrial accidents, mainly due to construction and infrastructure projects in Hong Kong.
There are no laws restricting work during typhoon or rainstorm warning signals except for a Labor Department recommendation that employers have only essential staff come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Both pro-Beijing and pan-democratic unions called for a review of protections for workers during inclement weather, including legal protections.