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  • Sep 17, 2014
  • Updated: 6:54pm
NewsHong Kong

Office envy - bosses silenced at end of day

Unionists want to see Hong Kong employers copy German ministry's lead in banningwork-related calls to staff outside office hours

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 5:06am

It is a workplace rule that will be the envy of all Hongkongers: bosses at Germany's labour ministry are now banned from contacting staff outside office hours.

Unionists say Hong Kong, with its notoriously long working hours, needs a similar rule. But an employers' group representative insisted the city had nothing to learn from Western countries as it was well ahead of them in terms of competitiveness.

The new rule came into effect in August and covers the 1,100 staff at Germany's Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Former labour and social affairs minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has said she hoped this would send a clear message to all employers about their workers' after-hours availability.

Von der Leyen has just been named the country's first female defence minister.

Under the ministry rule, managers can e-mail or call their staff outside office hours only in "exceptional cases".

Dr Roland Vogt, the director of the University of Hong Kong's European studies programme, and a German, said: "We also have other laws. For example, everyone needs to have access to natural light. If you work at a place with no windows, you get depressed."

Under federal law, shops in Germany, for example, can open from 6am to 8pm from Monday to Saturday, and cannot open on Sundays and public holidays. In 2006, Germany's 16 states were given the power to regulate their own shop opening hours. All of the states took up this option except for Bavaria, where the federal law remains in effect.

Vogt said numerous studies had shown that workers were more productive if there was a clear line between their personal lives and work. "Hong Kong is not a friendly place for people to have a family," he added.

Labour Party chairman and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said the ministry's ban showed that the German government was more people-oriented than business-oriented. "In Hong Kong, the first thing we talk about when we discuss labour protection is how not to harm the commercial sector," Lee said.

"Governments in foreign countries do not just look at how the gross domestic product will be affected. The most important thing for them is how to ensure workers have a healthy work-life balance."

Lee and Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Tang Ka-bill supported the idea of local businesses introducing the policy and said it should be discussed by lawmakers.

But Federation of Hong Kong Industries chairman Stanley Lau Chin-ho said the ban would not work in the city. "If an employee suddenly comes across a problem at work, they would actually want to talk to their bosses to find out what they should do," he said.

Lau said he saw no need for Hong Kong to take the same approach as Western countries when it came to the workplace, saying the city would suffer if it did so. He cited Spain's high unemployment rate, which was 26 per cent in the second quarter of this year.

"If we want a higher unemployment rate, let's have these policies in Hong Kong. I just don't think we need always adopt the Western model," he said.

Lau added that he rarely contacts his employees after work.


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This article is now closed to comments

Nice to see the Germans leading the way!

Hong Kong definitely needs to learn from advanced labor legislation from European countries, especially Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
There are two ways to make a lot of money and to become billionaires – civilized or uncivilized way.
New York City has the most billionaires in the world and Hong Kong is the second. Minimum wage and working hours limit have been in work for some thirty years in New York City. Another round of upending the minimum wage is in review. So why Hong Kong bosses is so uncivilized towards their workers? They have government on their side to be so and the workers are just powerless politically. Even the two-wage families for mortgage payment in fact are all indentured workers in Hong Kong. Sad but so true.
It's pretty funny how many people on here want to be their boss's plaything so badly, that they'll come up with the most implausible excuse.

When your boss wants to go all the way, make sure he lets the tip in first before you guys go all the way,
Ok, so Leung Chun Ying should stop looking for his cabinet after 5 p.m. each day, no matter what is going on around Hong Kong - This is called equal opportunities.
LOL. In fact, Germany is busy trying to keep their Porsche electric vehicle prototypes from bursting into flames.
“If an employee suddenly comes across a problem at work, they would actually want to talk to their bosses to find out what they should do,”
OMG, I can't stop laughing. And yeah, typical for the local mentality. Why would I take an initiative and make a decision if I can cover my ****?
"The most important thing for them [foreign governments] is how to ensure workers have a healthy work-life balance"
Nonsense. The most important thing for all governments is to retain power over people. Since they produce nothing of value, they have to rely on lies, indoctrination and coercion to hold on to the benefits produced by others. And they will say and do anything that they believe will maintain the status quo.
Contacting staff after hours doesn't lead to increased productivity or net benefits for the company. While people do tend to work after hours, trying to have meetings, questions and email discussions only goes downhill. I run a consulting business and it's a personal rule of mine (after many prior disastrous incidents) never to contact staff unless absolutely critical. Employees resign if you badger them too much, and the ones that do leave are the ones you want to retain. And costs much more to hire new staff and train them as well. Only bad managers think otherwise.
This law and a law requiring stores to close on Sunday is a sign of aging Europe. It is a business for labor, not labor for business principle. Disaster for the country.
There is more in life than only running after money.




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