Should there be a legally mandated ceiling on weekly working hours in Hong Kong?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2011, 12:00am


Charmain Li, 17, Sha Tin College

Although legally mandating a ceiling on weekly working hours protects employees from the harmful effects of working too long, setting too low a ceiling would be counterproductive to the economy.

Setting the maximum hours too low will eventually drive down average income in Hong Kong and lower living standards.

Moreover, this type of legislation cannot be 'one-size-fits-all'.

Different industries have different labour needs and working times - what might be ideal for one party might not be practical for another.

For example, office workers may be required to work 9am to 5pm on weekdays because that is how their company schedule works. But shopkeepers could be required to open their stores from 11am to 10pm every day of the week.

Some people could call this 'exploitation'. But in reality, workers in desperate need of money - to pay rent, settle medical bills or just to stay afloat when finances are tight, among other reasons - are usually prepared to work for however many hours necessary to earn the cash they need.

Enforcing a legal limit on weekly working hours cuts off this option to make ends meet by honest means for those who find themselves in these situations.

They could instead end up turning to gambling or find other, illegal ways to make money.

I think everyone of working age should be allowed to work as many hours as they see fit.

Melody Cheung, 16, St Paul's Secondary School

The legally binding minimum wage took effect on May 1. Some people are not happy that maximum working hours are not stated in the law, and I am on their side.

From an employee's perspective, maximum working hours means better protection. Due to the implementation of the minimum wage, some employers may expect employees to work longer hours to offset the higher wages.

To compensate for paying out more wages, productivity has to be higher. Employees may have to work overtime for no extra pay. So, with only a minimum wage in Hong Kong, employees may be more vulnerable to exploitation. A minimum wage has little meaning if it is not backed by a rule on maximum working hours.

Some people argue that productivity does not have a direct relationship to working hours. I agree that other factors also affect productivity, such as the health of workers. Employees who work longer hours often suffer greater stress and may develop occupational diseases more easily. If so, productivity per hour worked will decrease in the long run.

Some also argue that the law should not control one's working hours as people may want to earn more by working more hours.

But that argument ignores the benefits that a ruling on maximum working hours would bring in terms of health and happiness.

I believe such factors play just as important a role in a well-functioning economy.