Andrew Leung's 65-hour week plan angers unionists

Lawmaker Andrew Leung's proposed ceiling on hours, with no overtime pay, to let staff 'enjoy family life' is rejected as 'hardly acceptable'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 5:34am

With debate over legislating standard working hours apparently deadlocked, a leading business lawmaker has floated an idea of capping weekly working hours at 65 - without overtime pay.

The proposal by industrial sector legislator Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen has infuriated unionists, who want time-and-a-half pay for hours worked over the standard.

Leung, chairman of the new Business and Professionals Alliance, said the issue should be handled "very carefully" and no legislation should be put forth until a "wide consensus" was reached.

"The unionists are talking about letting employees go home earlier and enjoy family life. A regulation on the maximum working hours would serve this purpose. The ceiling can be set at 65 hours a week," said Leung, who represents the Federation of Hong Kong Industries in the Legislative Council. "Otherwise, you are only talking about money."

Unionists said standard working hours could not be replaced by a mere working-hour cap.

"What [Leung] said shows that the business sector is loath to give overtime pay. This is an attitude that we are up against," Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing said.

Unions have long demanded that the government set standard working hours at about 44 hours and require overtime pay for any more.

Leung's business-affiliated alliance has seven lawmakers and is currently the second-biggest grouping in the legislature, trailing the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

In his election platform, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged to set up a committee to study standard working hours, but Andrew Leung said even if this did not result in legislation it could not be taken as a breach of promise.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in November he expected that the committee would be set up and start work in the first quarter of this year.

Government figures showed that the median contract working hours in the city were 44.5 hours a week in 2011. The average and median weekly total working hours for all employees were estimated at 47 and 46.6 hours, respectively.

Wong said Andrew Leung's suggestion was "hardly acceptable" and dismissed it as an effort to divert attention.

Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said legislating maximum working hours was just one of their three main demands on hour-related rules.

Standard working hours plus overtime pay topped their wish list, he said, followed by regulation of rest hours and, last, a cap on working hours. "Merely capping working hours cannot tackle the problem of no overtime pay [in many companies]," Lee said.

Confederation of Trade Unions chief executive Mung Siu-tat said Andrew Leung's proposal might "lead to an opposite result" in which some employers could force their staff to work up to 65 hours a week without overtime pay.

Irons Sze, president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, said a working-hour cap "could be more easily acceptable to the business sector" than standard hours.

Sze, who also sits on the Labour Advisory Board, said it would be best if no legislation was introduced and the issue of working hours was left to employers and employees to decide.

In November, seven of the city's biggest business chambers warned the government in a joint letter that a law on standard working hours would hurt the commercial environment but did not say directly that the chambers opposed such a law.