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The Secretary for Labour and Welfare has criticised ATV’s move to stop staff seeking outstanding pay as “inadvisable”, after more than 60 per cent of the beleaguered broadcaster’s former employees applied

for financial help through a government fund.

His comments came after the station rehired about 160 members of staff on contracts stipulating they cannot seek to recover their outstanding January and February wages from the broadcaster or its provisional liquidator, Deloitte China, before April 2.

ATV agreed a deal with Deloitte on Friday night to stay on the air until its free-to-air licence expires on April 1. But Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said an agreement could not be used to supersede the Employment Ordinance.

READ MORE: Mainland Chinese investor splashes the cash and secures 11th-hour deal to buy time for ATV

“If an agreement prevents or reduces the provision of rights, interests and protection covered by the Employment Ordinance, this agreement is invalid,” he said.

Cheung added that employees had a responsibility to be aware of what they were signing.

The secretary also revealed that 230 former ATV employees had applied for the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund at the Labour Department, with 50 more set to complete applications in the coming week. This means 60 per cent of ATV’s ex-employees are seeking payments through the fund, which covers wages owed to employees whose employers become insolvent.

Cheung stressed that the process for the release of funds could only begin after a company is liquidated, and that payments were not “compensation” but rather “advanced funds” to help those affected in trying times.

But the secretary said the department had already asked Deloitte to provide information to allow it to begin verifying applications, so as not to waste time.

He also revealed that the department would hold a recruitment drive at Tsuen Wan Job Centre on March 22 for employees at ATV, offering over 200 jobs related to broadcast media.

Cheung said the department would prosecute if there was sufficient evidence the broadcaster deliberately refused to pay wages, but such action would be difficult if ex-employees would not testify.

Former ATV staff the Post spoke to said they felt “cheated” and “had difficulties managing

finances”.