Disciplined services seek better work hours

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

In the last of a three-part series, police and fire services put the case for a more balanced lifestyle for officers

As the government prepares for the implementation of a five-day week for civil servants from Saturday, officers in the disciplined services - who won't benefit from the change - are lobbying for better working hours for frontline staff.

Chung Kam-wa, chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, said officers on patrol duties had long suffered unreasonable demands on their time when compared with foreign counterparts.

'Everyone knows that local policemen work very long hours and are under a lot of pressure,' said Mr Chung. 'We would like to give the officers one more day of rest for a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.

'The majority of officers would support a five-day week if that can be achieved. But there are concerns that officers already work a very long day, and if their day were to be lengthened it would be onerous and even affect their ability to do the job.'

As it stands, patrol officers work an 11-day fortnight with daily shifts of 83/4 hours - equivalent to just over 48 hours a week. But some argue they effectively work a six-day week, since the third day off is compensation for having extended daily shifts by 45 minutes in 1998 when the government shuffled rosters to save on overtime.

'Of course, our main objective is to reduce working hours, which we believe are still too long when compared with other jurisdictions and other government departments,' said Mr Chung.

Tsui Chi-keung, chairman of the Fire Services Department Staff General Association, says he would be content if operational firemen, whose rostered working week is the longest of all government employees at 54 hours, could have their hours brought into line with those of police.

'We do not expect to have a five-day working week. We understand that we are part of an essential service that has to be provided around the clock,' said Mr Tsui. 'But firemen are people too and just as deserving of a decent work-life balance as anyone else.'

Firefighters used to have to work 60 hours a week until protests in 1990 won them a six-hours-a-week concession. Mr Tsui said trimming shifts to between 44 hours and 48 hours a week would satisfy officers disillusioned with their workload.

A police spokesman said working groups were researching the feasibility of a five-day work week for patrol officers, but that a cut in hours was out of the question.

'Non-uniformed staff will start moving to a five-day work week in July, and some uniformed staff already work only five days,' he said. 'It is a very big department with a lot of people on different shifts, but we hope to have uniformed staff on a five-day week by July next year.'

He said the change would not involve recruiting additional officers.

A Fire Services Department spokeswoman said: 'There will be no reductions in the hours of service for staff.'