Can Hong Kong afford a minimum wage?

FinanceAsia readers give a hesitant nod of approval to Hong Kong’s minimum wage.

Guaranteeing a minimum hourly wage for workers and protecting competition will not hurt Hong Kong's economic growth, according to FinanceAsia readers.

In our web poll last week, readers were generally of the opinion that Hong Kong can afford to guarantee a better deal for its low-paid workers and to restrain the power of monopolists, but plenty of people took the opposite opinion too.

The new wage bill has been a long time coming. Workers in the city had campaigned for a minimum wage for years before finally winning the battle two years ago, when the government caved in and agreed to set a mandatory hourly rate. After all that, it still took 41 hours of debate in mid-July to get the bill through and a final battle to determine the exact rate continues. It is expected to fall within the range of HK$24 to HK$34 ($3 to $4.35).

Even at the lower end of that scale, a minimum wage will mean a pay hike for hundreds of thousands of workers, from staff at fast-food outlets like MacDonald's to construction workers and cleaners.

At the same time, the government has tabled a competition bill that will prevent businesses from abusing their market power and enforcing restrictive agreements.

Critics argue that both new rules are an affront to Hong Kong's freewheeling capitalism, which they say has been directly responsible for the city's prosperity. Telling businesses how much to pay their staff and how big they can be will create a huge new bureaucracy and, ultimately, will put a curb on Hong Kong's economic growth, they claim.

But our readers disagree. In total, 58% said that growth in Hong Kong would not be hurt by the new regulations, while 42% said the economy would suffer.

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