Business chambers voice concerns over working hours

Chambers say it will harm the growth of the city as democrats call for 40- to 44-hour work week

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 8:41am

Seven of the city's biggest business chambers have sent a rare joint letter to the government, warning that legislating standard working hours would hurt the commercial environment.

The chambers wrote to Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung yesterday, a few days before the government is expected to table a study report to the Labour Advisory Board for discussion.

The carefully drafted letter does not say directly that the chambers oppose such a law, but warns it would be detrimental to the city's steady and robust economic growth.

"The far-reaching implications of regulating standard working hours have the potential to rock the fundamentals which have underlined Hong Kong's success," it says.

Pan-democrats have called for a 40- to 44-hour working week and want people who put in longer hours to be paid 1-1/2 times their usual wage rate. In a poll of retail workers in the summer, most respondents said they worked more than 54 hours a week.

Businesses claim a minimum wage law that sets hourly pay at no less than HK$28 has pushed up operation costs since it went into force in May last year.

The letter was issued by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Hong Kong Industries, Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Retail Management Association and Employers' Federation of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is one of the most service-oriented economies in the world and that means other countries' experiences with this law may not work here, it says.

"Realistically, it is simply too difficult to set 'standard' working hours for different industries in a free economy."

It also warns that bosses may have to hire temporary or part-time workers to avoid handling excessive overtime claims.

When asked if the letter was meant to exert pressure on the government, Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, standing committee member of the Chinese General Chamber, said the chambers simply wanted to express their concerns to the administration.