Chairman's term won't give enough time to set work hours law, says legislator

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 2:53am

The government will definitely not have enough time to legislate standard working hours if it works within the present terms it has set, a veteran labour activist says.

Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan yesterday criticised Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung for setting the standard working hours committee chairman's term at three years. It was a form of procrastination, he said.

"Why did Cheung set it as three years instead of at one or two years? That's because the Legislative Council's present term would end exactly by that time. And Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying would have only a year left by then," Lee said.

"There would definitely not be enough time to legislate this law," Lee said.

The 24-member special committee was set up last week to look into the benefits and disadvantages of standardising working hours in Hong Kong.

The committee's chairman, Dr Leong Che-hung, said he hopes to submit a report to the government by the end of his three-year term.

During City Forum at Victoria Park yesterday, Lee cited a government report in November as saying that more than 300,000 of the city's workers did not get any overtime pay. That amounted to an annual average of HK$14.1 billion.

Employers would have to pay out up to HK$55.2 billion more a year in wages if a labour law standardising working hours were introduced.

Unionists have been calling for a 40- to 44-hour work week and for those who put in longer hours to be paid 1.5 times their usual rate of wages.

Another speaker at the forum, research fellow Raymond Yeung of Shue Yan University, pointed out that introducing such a labour law would usually take a long time.

For example, he said, it took South Korea five years - from 1998 to 2003 - to introduce their 40-hour work week law.

Honorary life chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Ho Sai-chu, said the issue was more complex than legislating minimum wage as it covered more workers.

More than 220,000 people would benefit when the minimum wage level goes up to HK$30 an hour next month.

But setting standard work hours at 48 or 40 hours a week would affect 1.32 million or 2.38 million people respectively.

"Many people's salaries are calculated on a monthly basis. If we have this law, does it mean that we will have to change the calculation of their wages to an hourly basis?" Ho said.

"We need to study very carefully to see if it will affect Hong Kong's economic development."