Call me a cynic, I don’t care, but as soon as I hear anyone claim that market forces, when left alone, will alleviate poverty and oppression, I begin to suspect their motives.
I become suspicious because ‘the market’ is an abstract entity with no feelings or conscience. The market doesn’t care if the workforce is old, young, sick or healthy; it doesn’t worry about low wages; it doesn’t even care if wages are paid or not; and, it certainly doesn’t care about working conditions.
It’s all about productivity and profit: keep costs low, and output and profit high.
But, there’s a difference between ‘laissez-faire’ and ‘do-not-care’. The market’s lack of humanity is recognised the world over, and in all civilised countries, to varying degrees, markets are regulated in an attempt to prevent abuse, corruption and inhumanity; if you like, it’s the ‘humanisation’ of the abstract concept. And humanising laws and regulations are introduced by enlightened and caring governments – not by ‘the market’.
So, it was sad to read in today’s newspaper that Hong Kong, as regards weekly working hours, ranks as the fifth worst in the world, just above Peru, South Korea, Thailand and Pakistan. According to the article, 40.9% of workers in Hong Kong work more than 48 hours per week.
I’m also disappointed the government still seems to be influenced by the 2006 Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce view that introducing a minimum wage and regulating working hours would affect Hong Kong’s position as “the most international business and financial centre in the Asian half of the world”.
However, I can see the beginnings of a movement for change: this week, I also read the employer members of the Labour Advisory Board – following a trip to Britain last month – are now “more ready to accept a universal minimum wage law”. Provided it’s not set too high, I presume.
Better late than never! 🙂