In October there was a huge social boycott on Café de Coral concerning its proposal of abolishing part-time staff’s paid lunch break. The massive fast food corporation is surely the major target of the territory-wide boycott but the Catering and Hotels Industries Employees’ General Union (CHIEGU) said that universities should not ignore their responsibilities in constraining unreasonable treatments on workers of their canteens.
A meeting was held on 3 November by the CHIEGU and the Concern Group (?????????????) set up by student representatives from six local universities, including the University of Hong Kong, to urge the University to put pressure on canteen contractors. Two canteens at the University of Hong Kong, namely the Union Restaurant and the Fong Shu Chuen Amenities Centre Restaurant, are operated by Asia Pacific Catering Corporation Limited, a subsidiary of the Café de Coral.
“HKU is the first university to respond to the expectations of the Union. The University is willing to act as a supervisor on all canteen contractors,” said the Director of Campus Life of HKU Mr Patrick Tang, one of those present in the above-mentioned meeting. HKU student representative in the Concern Group Benson Siu said that HKU should bear social responsibility, as it is a public entity.
But the University might be a toothless tiger now. Contract terms of Union Restaurant and Fong Shu Chuen Amenities Centre Restaurant have been signed already without binding conditions on employment policies or workers’ benefits.
“The University does not fully utilize its bargaining power. Renovation of canteens is paid by the institution and it is the ‘boss’ of all tendered canteens,”A representative of the Catering and Hotels Industries Employees’ General Union Ms Suzanne Wu said. “It just has little awareness on workers’ benefits.”
“Old terms cannot be altered. But the University would pay more attention on employees’ rights with regard to the contract terms of the coming new restaurant at Haking Wong Podium,” said Mr Tang, promising a long-term supervision on any possible exploitations on workers. But any future additions of contract terms regarding the new canteen, which will be open at the end of this year, are not disclosed.
Boycott on Café de Coral’s plan of unpaid lunch break has been cooled down when the fast food chain altered his proposal on 6 November. A spokesperson of the Café de Coral says that the fast food chain has increased its workers hourly salaries by $2 to $2.5 in order to comply with the statutory minimum wage while the keeping meal payment. The fast food chain expected a 120-million increase in operating costs next year.
But the fight for catering workers’ rights continues. “To order to make ends meet, many part-time workers at university canteens still have to work longer hours,” said Ms Wu. “Their lives are even worse than the beneficiaries of the [Comprehensive Social Security Assistance].”
According to the CHIEGU’s survey conducted last year, restaurant employees of the University of Hong Kong work 9.5 hours every day on average and their average monthly salary is $5, 813. Many of the interviewees from HKU work in the two canteens operated by Asia Pacific Catering Corporation Limited.
The University has promised to collect information concerning canteen workers’ salaries from Asia Pacific Catering Corporation for investigation. But the collection is still in process now.
Compared to workers of the same industries in Central and Western District, staff at the University of Hong Kong canteens has been underpaid. “The average hourly wage of the same industry in this district is $28,” Ms Wu said. “A worker who washes dishes in a restaurant earns $8000 every month but those who work in university canteens only get not more than $6000. It’s a shame of the University.”