Will five-day workers get back 'lost' holidays?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 January, 2011, 12:00am

With the rise in employees working a five-day week, fewer people benefit when public holidays fall on a Saturday. The Labour Department plans to do something about that.

Public holidays sometimes fall on Saturdays if the events for which they are granted occur on a Sunday. The department is proposing that when Lunar New Year's Day or the day following the Mid-Autumn Festival is a Sunday, the public holiday be on the following Monday rather than the preceding Saturday.

But the change will raise businesses' costs and risks causing a row with employers' representatives still smarting from the imposition of a minimum wage. And it raises another question: what happens when other public holidays fall on a Saturday? Should they be moved to the following Monday too?

The department will put its proposal to the Labour Advisory Board for discussion on Monday with a view to tabling an amendment to employment laws next year.

A government official familiar with the labour situation said the change would inevitably increase costs for businesses.

'We are not sure how the business sector would react to the proposed changes, especially as they have been affected by the introduction of a minimum wage already,' the official said.

Lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, one of Legco's commercial sector representatives, said such an amendment would increase the cost of doing business in the city and affect its competitiveness.

'The government has proposed many changes that would affect the city's business environment in recent years. The proposed introduction of a competition bill would be one of those,' Lam said.

However, unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said such an amendment would have little impact on business.

'It's not every year that the holiday would fall on a Sunday.'

Lunar New Year's Day next falls on a Sunday in 2013.

Stanley Ng Chau-pei, an employee representative on the Labour Advisory Board, said a review of the compensation arrangements for public holidays should be a comprehensive process rather than covering just the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

'For example, sometimes a public holiday falls on a Saturday.

'With the five-day working week becoming increasingly popular, many employees will lose one holiday in such cases. It is unclear how these situations will be dealt with,' said Ng.

A document from the board shows about 850,000 employees - a quarter of the workforce - were on a five-day week in 2008, compared with 480,000 workers in 2001.

Ng said the government's proposal was limited in scope and failed to address the system of rest days for employees in a wider context.

'Will the five-day working week be implemented city-wide in the future? At present, the government is only encouraging employers to do so, as great opposition from the business sector can be foreseen if it is made a requirement,' he said.

The substitute holiday arrangement for other statutory holidays - under which the public holiday falls on the day after the original holiday - would not change.