Leung Chun-ying cautious on pensions, working hours
Chief executive will make only scant reference to universal pensions and standard working hours, says New People's Party vice-president
In his policy address this week, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is expected to make only passing mention of two issues that have loomed large in the community this year: standard working hours and universal retirement protection. Both are issues on which consensus has proved elusive.
Leung does not support universal retirement protection and points to the financial debt some Western countries were saddled with after introducing such schemes, said legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun, who joined the chief executive for a breakfast meeting on Wednesday.
Unions have long demanded that the government set standard working hours at about 44 hours a week and require overtime pay for hours worked beyond that.
Tien, who is vice-chairman of the New People's Party, quoted the chief executive as saying that the community could not handle the "shock" if standard working hours were introduced.
"Leung told us it would be more difficult to reach consensus on standard working hours than on a minimum wage," Tien said.
"He said it was very hard to set standard working hours that would apply to all industries and he also mentioned the difficulties of granting exemptions."
In his election platform, Leung pledged to set up a committee comprising government officials, representatives of labour unions and employers' associations, as well as community leaders, to study a standard work week.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in November the committee should meet in the first quarter of this year.
According to a study carried out by the Labour Department and released in November, employers would need to pay HK$55.2 billion more a year in wages if a standard working hours were introduced in Hong Kong.
In November, seven of the city's biggest business chambers sent a rare joint letter to the government, warning that capping weekly working hours would hurt the commercial environment.
Tien believes Leung established the committee as a gesture to the labour sector.
Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan criticised Leung for lacking sincerity.
"The government should show some leadership in the matter. There was no community-wide consensus on a minimum wage before the government decided to legislate on it in 2008," Lee said.
"The business sector supported the move after the government made the decision."