Hong Kong’s Fringe Club Fails to Pay Former Employees
By Lily Wong
As Hong Kong’s cultural space Fringe Club continues to struggle with the renewal of its lease at the historical building of the Old Dairy Farm Depot, the Club’s founder Benny Chia Chun-heng and former administrator Catherine Lau Kam-ling filed a legal claim on August 30 against the board of the Club, Hong Kong Festival Fringe Limited, to demand the repayment of their salaries. The duo, who have retired since the end of August, issued another letter on September 13 and warned of legal action to shut down the club if the board fails to pay by October 5.
The board’s overdue payment to the pair totals HKD 12 million (USD 1.5 million), including HKD 8 million (USD 1 million) to Chia and HKD 4 million (USD 510,000) to Lau. Chia and Lau had served in their positions without being paid since 2007 and 2014 respectively, until they agreed to work voluntarily for the Club in April 2020, due to the financial deficit worsened by the pandemic. Citing this latest agreement, the Club’s board of directors has rejected their demand. The acting chairman Anson Chan Yiu-cheung added that there’s only approximately HKD 900,000 in the Club’s bank account, which is insufficient for the repayment, and that the Club has suffered from clearing its debt for over a decade since the 2008 financial crisis.
The dispute is a further blow to the club’s survival as it is facing difficulties in renewing its lease at the Old Dairy Farm Depot on Lower Albert Road in Central. While the lease was usually extended on a five-year basis in the past, the latest renewal granted by the government only lasts one year and will expire in March next year. The Club’s potentially last art exhibition “Be 40,” celebrating the space’s four-decade history, ended on June 30 and featured 66 artists such as Antonio Mak, Leung Mee Ping, and Yeung Tong Lung.
In April, the board proposed to the then-Home Affairs Bureau on the future plans of the Club’s operation in the hope of extending the lease. According to the government’s spokesperson, the authorities were negotiating with the Club on the lease renewal and would soon re-evaluate the use of the building.
Lily Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s editorial intern.