SCMP Saturday, May 12, 2001

Widening wealth gap shocks unions


New calls were made yesterday for a minimum wage and progressive taxes to prevent a further widening of the gap between rich and poor following the release of the Government's Pay Trend Survey.
Academics and unionists said they were stunned to learn that low-paid workers in the private sector received a percentage pay rise half that of their higher-paid colleagues, as reported in the annual official survey. Polytechnic University applied social studies lecturer Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said low-income workers had been neglected over the past few years to the extent where the Government must act.
"We need to impose in Hong Kong the minimum wage and maximum working hours that already exist in other developed countries if the wage slide within the group is to be halted," he said. "There must be changes in the current tax system so that a re-distribution of wealth can take place.
"A progressive tax on those earning more and companies making huge profits is needed to enable the Government to have sufficient funding to expand its social services."
The Hong Kong and Kowloon Trades Union Council said it did not understand why higher earners had collected such a comparatively large percentage rise.
"The gap in the size of pay rises between top and low earners is just too wide to comprehend, which simply points to one thing - the rich-poor gap in Hong Kong is widening," chairman Lee Kwok-keung said.
A council survey of 112 union officials found that 83 per cent felt the situation for workers would worsen with economic globalisation. Of these, 71 per cent chose wage suppression as the main factor for the deterioration and 24 per cent suggested it was due to the domination of large corporations.