Tuck in Lord Patten! The cost of your favorite custard tarts is lagging behind the average 3.9% wage rise. Photo: Reuters
Tuck in Lord Patten! The cost of your favorite custard tarts is lagging behind the average 3.9% wage rise. Photo: Reuters

First the good news: the average Hong Kong worker has been treated to a pay rise of almost 4%. But the rest of the news is nearly all bad.

For one thing, nine out of 10 people in Hong Kong have to work overtime. Not to make ends meet it seems, because three-quarters of those putting in the extra hours don’t get paid for it, according to the 2017 salary survey by online recruitment agency JobsDB.

It’s quite common for Hong Kong bosses to demand staff work past their eight-hour day for no reward, which also helps explain why the average dinner appointment seems to be creeping later and later these days. It’s hard to find anyone free even at 7.30pm … which is an hour that can be disastrously damaging to the waistline.

And it’s not like these curmudgeonly managers are saving up their gratitude for the annual bonus. One in four Hong Kong workers didn’t get one, the survey shows. Still, just over half – 53% – did, and with the average at the equivalent of six weeks pay, the one-off fillip is up a fifth on the year before.

The headline figures also disguise a wide variation across different sectors. About 40% of workers got no salary adjustment at all, with the biggest winners in advertising, media and manufacturing. Next time you’re out at one of your late dinners, spare a thought for your hardworking waiting staff. If they seem a little grumpy, it might have been the 2% average pay cut.

And a thought too for all those hardworking salt-of-the-earth types from Central’s investment banking circles. These Masters of the Universe were brought back to earth with a thud as workers in the IT and property sectors landed the biggest pay increases, with an average bump of 5.3%.

While it’s true that a 3.9% raise in Hong Kong is respectable given the inflation rate has averaged 1.9% over the past year, that headline number also fails to capture the pinch to the average person’s pocketbook where it hurts.

Home prices have approximately doubled in the past five years, and are up about 6% on a year ago, according to government data. And for those ordinary folk who find themselves booted from the bottom rung of the home ownership ladder, the comfort of a full belly and the pitter patter of tiny feet is also becoming an unaffordable dream. Pork prices (the trusty workhorse of Chinese cuisine) may have come off last year’s highs but are still trotting ahead at a respectable year-on-year clip of 6.5%. Infant clothing is 8.3% more expensive than a year ago.

So, dear global reader, you’ll forgive us, I’m sure, if we don’t pop open the champagne (foreign-style wines: up 0.4%) on reading the headlines. A Hong Kong working class hero is something to be, as John Lennon once might have put it.

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