The statutory minimum hourly wage was re-adjusted to HK$32.50 ($4.18) in May for all new contracts signed after October 1. The government also increased the mandatory food allowance for persons working in homes where their employers did not provide meals. On October 1, the SAR increased domestic workers’ minimum monthly wage from HK$4,110 ($529) to HK$4,210 ($542) and increased the minimum monthly food allowance from HK$964 ($124) to HK$995 ($128).
The official poverty line was half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare transfers, based on household size. For a one-person household, the poverty line was set at HK$3,600 ($463), for a two-person household HK$7,700 ($990), for a three-person household HK$11,500 ($1,480), and so on. According to this definition, more than 1.3 million persons (in a population of approximately 7.2 million) were living in poverty.
There is 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 are regulations and guidelines on working hours and rest breaks. The law stipulates that employees are entitled to 12 days of statutory holidays and employers must not make payment in lieu of granting holidays.
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. In its explanation of why live-in domestic workers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained “the distinctive working pattern--round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers--made it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid.”
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 abuse by employers. Workers who pursued complaints through legal channels could be granted leave to remain in the SAR but could not work, leaving them either to live from savings or depend on charitable assistance. The government contended the “two-week rule” was necessary to maintain effective immigration control and prevent migrant workers from overstaying and taking unauthorized work.
During the first eight months of the year, the Labor Tribunal received 973 employment cases involving foreign domestic workers, most of which the government said were related to nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal. The tribunal convicted three employers on 17 counts of wage default, annual leave default, and failure to pay awards in cases relating to the employment of foreign domestic workers. Domestic workers could also be subject to physical and verbal abuse, poor living and working conditions, and limitations on freedom of movement.
In December 2014 a trial began in a case involving an Indonesian domestic helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih allegedly severely abused while working for her former employer, who was charged with violations of labor and criminal laws. Erwiana’s former employer, Law Wan-tung, was sentenced to six years in prison in February after being convicted of 18 out of 20 charges, including assault and criminal intimidation.
Regarding maximum hours and rest periods, the government stated the rules on these issues cover local and migrant workers.
Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. No laws restrict work during typhoon or rainstorm warnings. The Labor Department issued a “code of practice” on work arrangements in times of severe weather, which includes a recommendation that employers require only essential staff to come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Both progovernment and pandemocratic unions called for a review of protections for workers during inclement weather, including legal protections.
Data on the number of labor inspectors working for the Department of Labor during the year were unavailable. Penalties for violations of minimum wage or occupational safety and health violations included fines, payments of damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations. 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; it enforced occupational safety and health laws effectively.
Employers and employer associations often set wages. Additionally, some activists claimed that employers used employment contracts that defined workers as “self-employed” to avoid employer-provided benefits, such as paid leave, sick leave, medical insurance, workers’ compensation, or Mandatory Provident Fund payments. According to the Labor Department, there were cases in which employers faced heavy court fines for such behavior. The department held that it was seeking to promote public awareness, consultation, conciliation services, and tougher enforcement to safeguard employees’ rights.
According to the General Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department during the year, approximately 17 percent of employees worked 60 hours or more per week. In the first quarter, the Labor Department recorded 7,786 occupational injuries, including 2,404 classified as industrial accidents, most of which occurred in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. In the same period, there were five fatal industrial accidents. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents. Labor activists continued to raise concerns about fatal industrial accidents, which primarily occurred in construction and infrastructure industries.