Give Hong Kong’s part-time workers their due benefits
Alfred C. M. Chan calls on the government to update its legislation so that those who don’t work full-time, many of whom are women in low-paid jobs, are not left out
The discussion about employment benefits for part-time employees has been ongoing for some years as part of a wider discussion of the system of employment benefits.
Under the Employment Ordinance, continuous employment is defined as working for the same employer for four weeks or more, and for at least 18 hours a week. Only employees engaged under a continuous contract are entitled to most benefits, including sick leave, annual leave and annual pay, rest days, maternity and paternity leave and pay, end-of-year bonus, and the right to claim unreasonable dismissal.
Those working less than 18 hours per week can be described as “part-time employees”, and those working less than four weeks as short-term casual employees. Of concern is the impact of the employee policies on part-time workers. We believe the system raises an issue of equality between part-time and full-time employees, but also because women are disproportionately affected.
Government’s statistics from 2011 indicate that 76.3 per cent – 42,900 – of part-time employees working less than 18 hours per week were women. Many were in low-paid jobs and poor. Statistics in 2015 also showed that one in six women live below the poverty line.
Gender pay gap widens among Hong Kong’s poorest workers, with women pulling in only 60 per cent of amount men earn
The policy regarding part-time employees, therefore, puts women in a disadvantaged position by denying them most employment benefits, and contributes to the perpetuation of their poverty.
Thus, the government should review and reform the current system, introducing either a “pro rata” system or one of full entitlements for part-time employees.
For example, if a person worked two-fifths of a normal working week, they should be entitled to two-fifths of the normal annual leave, sick leave and similar benefits. In relation to maternity and paternity rights, part-time employees should have the same benefits as full-time employees rather than pro rata.
Providing adequate employment benefits to part-time employees would not only ensure they are treated fairly, but could attract more people, especially women, to join the labour force. They are also more likely to stay with an employer, and be more productive. This could help ease the manpower shortage, especially in the retail and catering sector that employs a large number of part-time employees.
We have raised these issues with the government, and highlighted the need to address the situation. We hope the new administration will review and soon put forward legislative amendments to ensure equality for part-time employees.
Alfred C. M. Chan is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission