Introducing working hours law for Hong Kong ‘would face uphill battle’

Employers shout down proponents of move at public consultation, showing strength of feeling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 4:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 6:01pm

Members of a committee gathering the public's views on a possible law to put in place standard working hours in Hong Kong say the attitudes of employers during a recent public-engagement exercise show how difficult it would be to pass such a bill.

The committee members said company bosses who attended meetings on the issue brought supporters and both shouted down labour representatives trying to presents their opinions.

The public-engagement exercise ends today after 37 consultations and rounds of talks organised by the Standard Working Hours Committee.

Trade unionist Chau Siu-chung, one of 23 members of the committee, recalled that in one recent consultation with representatives from the transport trade, about 90 per cent of those present were employers.

"When the workers were talking, the employers were shouting 'boo'. This was not fair for the workers who wanted to make their voices heard," said Chau, who is the treasurer of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions.

He said he was concerned that because so many people at the sessions loudly opposed standard working hours, the consultancy running the exercise might conclude this was "mainstream opinion".

Fellow committee member Lee Tak-ming said some bosses brought their staff to the consultation to boost the numbers appearing to oppose the law.

"After the introduction of the statutory minimum wage, employers are now firmly against another law that may harm business," said Lee, who is general secretary of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Trades Union Council.

Unions have been calling for a standard working week of 44 hours with wages of time-and-a-half for any hours worked in excess of this. But employers say it is not practical to set one standard for all jobs.

The government estimated in 2012 that employers would need to pay up to HK$55.2 billion a year more in wages if standard working hours were introduced.

The Standard Working Hours Committee was established last year with a three-year term. It is conducting a survey of 10,000 employees about their working hours. It is expected to put forward proposals for a public consultation in the second quarter of next year.

According to Census and Statistics Department figures for May to June last year, the median working week for men is 48 hours, and for women is 44.3. The median figure for workers at Chinese restaurants was 58.2.

Committee member Stanley Lau Chin-ho, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said that as a member he wasn't supposed to take a stance.

"But some business groups have said that this should not be legislated because it could harm the economy," he said.

After attending many consultation sessions, Lau said he found some workers wanted standard working hours because they wanted more time with family.

He therefore suggested introducing a law on maximum working hours instead, which would mean employers could not ask their staff to work beyond a certain number of hours.