5-day work week could cost 16m man hours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2006, 12:00am

Switch to give civil servants extra hour's leave for each leave day accumulated

The government could lose more than 16 million man hours after it switches to a five-day week, due to untaken leave accumulated by civil servants.

The switch will effectively give civil servants an extra hour's leave for each leave day accrued so far.

The loss of productivity, valued at more than $2.3 billion, will not be reflected in the government budget because it still adopts the old-style cash-based accounting method.

Accountants are divided over whether the administration should increase its financial liability from the untaken leave in its annual accrual accounting report.

The government will begin phasing in a five-day working week from July. It aims to extend the scheme to cover half the workforce in a year and may eventually cover the whole civil service.

While disciplinary forces may have difficulty implementing the scheme, the police force has said it will look into whether it, too, could adopt a five-day week.

The government has said the switch from a 51/2-day week will not change staffing resources or hours of service. This means staff will have to work an extra hour each day from Monday to Friday to compensate for the Saturday half-day.

As a result, one man hour will be lost for each day of accumulated leave - the leave was earned on an eight-hour working day but will be paid as a nine-hour day.

Hong Kong's 160,000-plus civil servants have an average of 110 days untaken leave each. The total outstanding leave is valued at $19.7 billion. This means the loss in man hours would be worth more than $2.3 billion if the scheme is applied to the whole civil service workforce.

A senior official said the government might have to address the loss. 'This is a big sum in working hours,' he said. 'The question is whether the government should cut back the number of leave days civil servants have accumulated to balance it out. But civil service unions will not agree to this.'

Accounting-sector legislator Mandy Tam Heung-man said the government should make provision for the loss. 'Many staff often work overtime and there is no way to ask them to work an extra hour during the weekdays.'

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants president Jimmy Chung Wai-kwok said the government did not need to make a provision for the productivity loss.

'Such a loss is hard to quantify precisely ... there is no accounting principle which requires the government to make provisions.'

A Civil Service Bureau spokeswoman said the calculation of untaken leave would not be affected.

Felix Cheung Kwok-bui, chairman of the Hong Kong Civil Servants General Union, said: 'It does seem we have gained some working hours. But I don't think anyone would like to cut their holidays.'