SCMP Saturday, November 18, 2000

Bosses trying to dodge MPF payments: unions


A significant number of employers - including the Government - are trying to dodge paying Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contributions, affecting at least 15,000 workers, unions claimed yesterday.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions has received 145 complaints alleging different attempts by employers to avoid paying their MPF dues - and it says one of the biggest offenders is the Government.
As the deadline for signing up to the compulsory schemes looms, the union called on the Government to produce urgent plans to tackle increasing malpractice by employers.
Of the complaints, about 40 cases involved the proposed deduction of contributions from civil servants' leaving gratuities.
The other employers concerned were mainly in the restaurant, transport and massage sectors. The most common complaint was changing workers' contracts to self-employed terms, confederation general-secretary and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said. "This is going to be a very serious problem. The Government and the MPF Schemes Authority must act quickly to come up with measures to stop it."
Mr Lee said that making workers self-employed was increasingly common in the transport and massage sectors. He said in the long run workers would not only lose retirement benefits but other statutory protection on wages, holidays and compensation for work injuries.
Of the complaints, 29 cases involved bosses forcing workers to sign self-employment contracts, with 15 lodged by transport workers and six by masseurs.
Mr Lee said employers who made employees self-employed could avoid paying contributions according to MPF law. He said the MPF authority should probe employers who made workers sign those contracts.
"I think the MPF authority is entitled to find out whether these contracts should be void. If the authority is able to do that, it should then ignore these contracts and force the employers to make contributions," Mr Lee said.
A spokeswoman for the authority said it would look at the "practical" employment relationship when investigating non-compliance. "If the relationship is a genuine employer-to-employee relationship, the employer will be obliged to make contributions," the spokeswoman said.
But any decision would have to be determined in court and workers must first complain to the authority, the spokeswoman said, admitting it could be time-consuming.
The confederation received 63 complaints saying bosses had cut wages to minimise retirement contributions and a further 45 complaints said employers had reduced fringe benefits to balance the cost of contributions.
In the first 10 months of this year, the Labour Department received only five complaints related to MPF.