14 SEP 2016
One in six women in Hong Kong live in poverty
Oxfam urges the government to review its policy on bazaars and the Employment Ordinance for casual workers
Oxfam’s latest report revealed that more than one in six women—or over 600,000 women—live below the poverty line in Hong Kong. The gender pay gap among the city’s working poor has also been widening compared to 2001 and now stands at 40%. Oxfam thus urges the government to review its policy on bazaars, the Employment Ordinance for casual workers, as well as review minimum wage annually to stop the worsening trend of poverty among women.
Based on data from the Hong Kong Statistics and Census Department’s General Household Survey between 2001 and the second quarter of 2015, Oxfam’s ‘Report on Women and Poverty’ shows that, the number of women living in poverty in Hong Kong reached 614,000 and the poverty rate among them stood at 17.4%. Moreover, the percentage of women living in poverty increased from 51.2% in 2001 to 53.7% in 2015; a total of 33,100 single parents lived in poverty in 2015, of which 85.2% were women. (Please refer to the table below.)
Among all employed persons in poor households in 2015, women’s monthly median income was HK$6,700—only a 34% increase in 15 years from HK$5,000 in 2001, while the increase in income among men rose by 46.7% within the same period. Slow wage growth of employed women in poor households has also broadened the gender pay gap. In 2015, among the city’s employed persons in poor households, women’s monthly median income was only 60.9% of men’s—the difference was close to 40% (39.1%). In 2001, the difference was 33.3%. Furthermore, in 2015, the monthly median income of employed women in poor households was 55% lower than the citywide figure of HK$15,000.
Moreover, these women are increasingly engaging in casual work. The number of men who engaged in casual work increased by 7.7 percentage points, while the increase among women reached 22.4. Women made up 67.5% of those who worked fewer than 35 hours every week.
However, under current regulations, those who work part-time are entitled to very limited employment protection. In addition, some employers reduce employees’ work hours to avoid providing full employment protection. As such, poor women are rendered even more vulnerable and find it difficult to escape poverty.
Furthermore, the labour force participation rate among women living in poverty was low. In 2015, the rate among poor working women was merely 19.9%, however, the citywide figure among all females was 55%—a 35% difference.
'The report revealed that poor working women face structural and long-term problems. For instance, they tend to have few job choices due to their household responsibilities. Also, many of them tend to work in industries that involve more casual work and unfavourable work conditions. As such, they are unable to share the fruits of Hong Kong’s economic success and suffer from the widening gender pay gap,’ said Wong Shek-hung, Oxfam’s Hong Kong Programme Manager.
To stop inequality, Oxfam recommends the following:
Firstly, minimum wage should meet the basic needs of women living in poverty. These women are often found in low-paying and insecure jobs, such as outsourced cleaning jobs, and barely earn minimum wage. Oxfam thus urges the Hong Kong government to review minimum wage annually and make sure it is adjusted to keep up with inflation.
Secondly, the government should take the lead to create job opportunities that take women’s household responsibilities into consideration. Oxfam calls on the Hong Kong government to encourage the development of local bazaars by disclosing a list of venues that can be used, working with various departments to facilitate the approval of applications from NGOs to host these, establishing a standardised application procedure and increasing the transparency of the approval process.
Finally, in terms of employment protection, Oxfam urges the Labour and Welfare Bureau, and LegCo’s Panel on Manpower to urge the Labour Advisory Board to -review the 4.18 policy. The International Labour Organization’s Part-Time Work Convention should also be adopted to put an end to the exploitation of part-time workers.
‘Legal protection for part-time workers in Hong Kong lags behind that of other affluent parts of Asia like Singapore and Taiwan. In these places, those who work part-time are entitled to such labour protection as paid rest days, statutory holidays and sick or maternity leave that are calculated on a pro-rata basis. As such, they offer workers who do not work under continuous contracts, particularly women in poverty, with greater employment protection. Hong Kong as Asia’s world city should catch up and protect women’s labour rights,’ said Kalina Tsang, Head of Oxfam’s Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan Programme.
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Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilises the power of people against poverty.
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