Exploitation is a term to describe person that are being mistreated. Karl Marx used it to explain the relationship between the capitalists and workers. It is claim that the value of a product is depended by how much labor has paid on it such as time, energy or ideas. Therefore the price of a product minus the cost and energy to produce a product or other sufficient usages should be equal to what a worker can earn. However, as the workers own nothing but their labor, they could only sell their labor to capitalists who own all other kinds of resources. Marx defined the value that capitalists take away from the workers as surplus value.
It should be fair between “sellers” and “buyers”, but the capitalists refuse to pay a suitable amount of reward. In order to gain more profit, the capitalists would try as hard as they can to increase the surplus value, and lead to exploitation. In the paragraph below, I will first start with reason why Hong Kong fast food workers being exploited. Second I will focus on the current situation of exploitations in Hong Kong fast food restaurant. In addition, I will express my opinion on the implantation of minimum wage. It could only improve the situation of workers but could not solve the problem of exploitation. Reason for being exploited
Workers in fast food shop is being exploited mainly because of the supply of workers is far more than the demand of job opportunities. In general, the jobs in fast food restaurant are independent to the education level. It is because most of the job opportunities in fast food restaurants are being simplified and divided clearly. With the aid of machines, almost everyone could do the job well; no specific skills are needed in fast food restaurants. Therefore this kind of jobs will depend much more on social skills such as communicate with customers, meaning that this kind of jobs is widely open to different types of people.
In 2007, there are approximately 32,100 fast food restaurant employee, compare with unemployment workers of age group between 20 to 50, which is over 100,000 in 2007. It is obvious that the supply of potential workers is far more than the job opportunities. Since the workers lack of bargaining power, it means capitalists could heavily exploit and extract the surplus value from workers. In order to earn a living or at least subsidies the family, workers have no choice but to accept the offer from capitalists. Exploitation in Hong Kong fast food restaurant
There are two sectors for capitalists to exploit the labors, first is low wage and long working hour , another would be on cutting employee welfare, and these two kinds of exploitations are common in fast food restaurant. It is terrified that the first aspect, low wage and long working hour, is a kind of norm in fast food industry. In before minimum wage launched, the average wage of fast food restaurant workers is extremely low, most of the fast food restaurant offer the workers with less than $20 per hour.
Besides pay for a low wage to workers, long working hour and mechanized steps in the fast food industry also reflect exploitation on the workers. As the capitalists treat labor as a product, they want to use this product to gain profit as much and fast as it can. On one hand they reduce the wage of workers, on the other hand the want to increase the rate of getting reward. They therefore encourage their workers to work overtime. Since the wages are too low that workers can not even earn a living for their family, they must need to work longer to fulfill the needs.
The research conducted by HKCTU in 2006 showed that the maximum working hour for fast food shop workers may up to 10 hours per day, but still they not earn enough for their family. Overtime working had already been proved that would lead to greater chance of getting heart attack. Capitalists sacrifice the lives of their workers to gain profits, which is created by workers. Exploitation can also be found on welfare. If there is a contract relationship between employer and employee, both of them should be protected by laws. However, the laws in Hong Kong show that it is unbalance.
The laws protect the employer more than that of employee and it also leads to exploitation. There are some cases that the capitalists avoid to pay for the employee welfare that a workers should have by using loopholes in the laws. The current labor laws stated that for all employees that continuously working for 4 weeks and each of the weeks working for not less than 18 hours, he or she will be protected by the law and can enjoy the employee welfare. However, this law comes with a lot of loopholes that let the capitalists have room to avoid paying employee welfare, like force the workers stop working every 3 weeks.
It becomes a characteristic in fast food industry because of its unbalance between supply and demand. The working hours of this kind of “short-term” workers may equal to long-term workers, but the worker will never receive the benefits form the welfare. This make the whole thing legal and the exploitation may continue. Some extreme cases even show that capitalists may act illegally to exploit the employee welfare. In 2009, the motorbike couriers from McDonald were discovered that they had forced to be self-employ, meaning that they do not have any paid holiday, insurance or any other employee welfare.
It is rather on the edge but since the current labor laws is not strict enough to protect the employee and rather or not the company is abusing the self-employ scheme is hard to be proved, the problem still remain unsolvable. Implantation of minimum wage The minimum wage law could reduce the level of exploitation, but capitalists could develop new methods to exploit the workers. According the findings of HKCTU, the wage of fast food restaurant workers after the launched of minimum wage has been increased for 20% to 50%.
It is also glad that some of the fast food restaurants such as Cafe de Coral and Fairwood paid for the dinning hours and provide paid holidays to their workers which are previously do not. They are good news for the workers, but when comparing to the current situation, it could only solve part of the problem of low wage, but the law still not protecting the welfare of workers, current labor laws still rely on “4-18 scheme”. In addition, in order to maintain the profits to balance the increase in wage, some of the fast food restaurants implant new machines to their fast food restaurants.
It increases the rate of trading, meanings the rate of getting reward increase. Although the capitalists claim that the new machines will not cause any dismiss of workers, new machines further simplified the process in fast food restaurants. Lower the skills level for fast food restaurant jobs indicate that the bargaining power of workers will not increase but further slide down. The set up of minimum wage provide an index for capitalists to exploit. Now they can not reduce the wage of workers, but instead they exploit the workers with brand new ways.
The form of exploitation has been change but does not mean that exploitation has disappeared. Conclusion In Hong Kong, the supply of labor is far more than the demand, causes the powerless situation of workers. In order to earn for their families, they could only be exploited. Minimum wage improves the current situation of labor, but could not solve the problem. The only way that balance the relationship between capitalist and workers, may rely on create new laws. If we need to solve the problem, the implant of minimum wage is the first step only.
Courtney from Study Moose
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