Published: 04/11/2010

Hong Kong employers have always been staunch defenders of low wages, nurturing a “competitive” labour market which has never known a legal minimum wage. Services are the key battleground. The HKCTU has now made a wage cut for workers at a group of popular fast food chains a central political issue.

In July this year, a minimum wage law was enacted which requires, for the first time, the establishment of a minimum wage by the Chief Executive, who is being advised by a Provisional Wage Commission. Michael Chan Yue Kwong, Executive Chairman of the Café de Coral Group, is a member of the Commission.

Café de Coral Group is hardly a bit player in the development of a minimum wage for Hong Kong. Café de Coral is an integrated catering, restaurant and fast food group which describes itself as “the largest publicly listed Chinese Fast Food restaurant group in the world with over 330 outlets in Asia Pacific region, and over 200 quick service restaurants in North America.* Group Executive Chairman Michael Chan Yue Kwong is also, among other things, an Executive Committee Member of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, a General Committee Member of the Employers’ Federation of Hong Kong, an Elected Member of the Quality Tourism Services Association, a Member of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Chairman of the Business Enterprise Management Centre of the Hong Kong Management Association and a recipient of “The Stars of Asia Awards”, the “Executive of the Year Award” and the “Directors of the Year Award”, among other honors,

Café de Coral Group has integrated “upstream” and has a food processing plant in Guangzhou and “a 120,000 sq.ft. central food processing facility housed under one roof within the Group’s 12 stories self-owned headquarters in Hong Kong”. Group subsidiary Scanfoods “owns a 40,000 sq.ft production base in Dongguan city, which processes and distributes ham, sausages and bacon products to over 1,000 institutional customers in Hong Kong and China.” The Group’s Executive Chairman is also Honorary President of the Hong Kong Foodstuffs Association. The Group’s Asia Pacific Catering describes itself as “undisputed market leader in the field.”, with a client base including “most major hospitals, universities, private and public corporations, both in Hong Kong and China.”

With Hong Kong workers (and employers) tensely awaiting the recommendations of the Provisional Wage Commission, and the Hong Kong confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) pushing for a HKD 33 (USD 4.25) per hour minimum, Café de Coral Group has intervened energetically in the debate – by imposing a pay cut on its already badly underpaid restaurant workers.

Under the recently declared new company policy, staff currently making HKD 22-25 received an increase of 2-3.50 per hour. At the same time, a 45 minute paid lunch break was eliminated – amounting to an overall cut.

The IUF-affiliated Catering & Hotels Industries Employees General Union, together with its national center HKCTU and other groups have responded with a series of actions at Group outlets in Hong Kong; a consumer boycott has been called from November 9. The IUF has written the Group to demand the restoration of paid meal breaks, a minimum wage of HKD 33 per hour and negotiations with the union.

Café de Coral’s fast food and restaurant brands include New Asia Dabao, Manchu Wok, Oliver’s Super Sandwiches, Spaghetti House, Bravo le Café, Super Super Congee and Noodles, Bistro M and Ah Yee Leng Tong.