Hong Kong working hours panel chief defends plan targeting low-income workers as a ‘first step’
But labour figure says focusing only on low-income workers is a ‘waste of time’
The chairman of the government’s advisory Standard Working Hours Committee has fended off criticism that the panel’s three years of work had been reduced to that of a “contract working hours committee”.
Dr Leong Che-hung’s defence followed the committee’s submission last week of a long-awaited report to the government recommending that working hours be standardised for low-income employees only.
The report also suggested employers negotiate working hours and overtime payments with their staff, and write all terms into employment contracts.
The proposals disappointed trade unions who have long called for working hours to be standardised and legislated at 40 to 44 hours per week regardless of how much an employee is paid.
Speaking on a radio programme on Tuesday, ex-Federation of Trade Unions’ lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu said he would continue to oppose the proposals, calling contract working hours a “waste of time” that failed to resolve the problem of excessive and exploitative labour practices.
“In March 2015, the committee agreed that legislative means would be used to regulate standard working hours and everyone thought we were moving forward,” he said. “It’s clear the general direction now is to forgo standard working hours and only have contract working hours.”
He said the labour sector would be willing to accept the proposals only if the government pledged to legislate standard working hours after implementing contract working hours for a period of time.
“[But] if the labour sector sees the Standard Working Hours Committee slowly turning into a contract working hours committee, what are we still sitting here for?”
Speaking on the same programme, Leong said there was room for amendments. “I wouldn’t say it’s a failure,” he said. “Nothing can be done in one step ... this is not the final direction.”
Last week the committee pledged to review the efficacy of the proposals after two years of implementation.
It also said it would continue to discuss and study through a “tripartite platform” whether standard working hours legislation was needed.
Lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan of the pro-business Liberal Party agreed and chastised Tang for not being willing to compromise and take a “first step”.
He compared it with the failed 2015 political reform, which most pro-establishment parties including the FTU and Liberal Party believed should be “pocketed first”.
“Bill, at that time in the Legislative Council, you agreed we should all take a step forward and pocket it first,” the lawmaker said to Tang on Tuesday. “I don’t understand why you’re all unwilling to take a step forward and pocket [this] first.”
Leong said the new proposals, if implemented, would ensure employment contracts were clear and that low-income workers received overtime compensation at rates no less than their wages.
“Everyone agrees that long working hours do not allow good work-life balance,” he added. “But standard hours cannot solve this problem because they don’t mean there is no overtime work.”
“Actually to go down this path, you need maximum working hours legislation. But both labour and employers oppose this.”