Why Hong Kong needs working hours law

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 2:13am

Legislator James Tien Pei-chun, in RTHK's Letter to Hong Kong, on January 20, urged our chief executive to look at "using imported labour specifically to build government public housing". As chairman of [developer] Manhattan Holdings, cynics in the community might ask if this proposal is to ensure that a large pool of experienced local workers is available to work on his company's projects for reduced wages?

Importation of labour is a sensitive issue as it is not only a matter of competition for jobs but also for affordable housing. Where would these imported workers live? Certainly not in a Manhattan development.

Any project requiring a large-scale infusion of manual workers would have to provide dormitory accommodation in order to avoid further pressure on low-cost housing in an already saturated market. So wily developers will push for public-funded projects to shoulder the additional costs.

Mr Tien then mentioned that a pressing concern of small and medium-sized enterprises, high rents, was not mentioned in the policy address.

As a property developer himself, how come Mr Tien has not called on his fellow tycoons to restrain their penchant for ever- increasing rental returns?

He also expressed concern about the shortage of shops and office premises. What about the vast land banks in the hands of the large developers?

He proceeded to whinge that the move towards standard working hours seriously undermined the freedom and flexibility that has made Hong Kong businesses among the world's most successful.

He added that we cannot place ourselves in the straightjacket of a single fit-all format (9am to 6pm) of standard working hours for every employee.

This is a complete distortion of the demand for reasonable working hours. The proposed legislation is not intended to stop those workers who want to earn more from working additional hours but rather to ensure that they are paid for hours over and above those stipulated in their employment contract. There has been no mention of restricting hours to 9am to 6pm.

The Labour Department report, that standardising working hours could cost bosses up to an additional HK$55 billion a year, indicates the extent to which workers are currently being ripped off.

Mr Tien forgets that he is an elected legislator and, as such, should represent the interests of the general public rather than the narrow vested focus of the functional constituencies.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan