Hong Kong government working hours plan slammed in Legislative Council
Staff representatives call for standardised working hours, while employers express fears such a move would hurt business
The government faced a barrage of criticism on Tuesday over its plan to implement working hours by contract for low-income employees only instead of adopting an across-the-board approach.
During a Legislative Council manpower panel meeting, members of the public, concern groups, association members and legislators – both for and against standard working hours – were dissatisfied with the government’s plan to give low-income workers protection through written contracts only.
Concern Group for Outsourced Works in New Territories representative Lee Wing-sze warned that employers would add overtime hours into contracts.
“Contract working hours and standard working hours are not the same. The government is reneging on its promise,” she said.
Kwok Yuen-yee, who works in the retail sector, rejected contract working hours, calling instead for standard working hours because those who worked for a minimum wage would continue to work long hours – fewer hours worked would only mean less pay for them.
“We hope the government can prescribe standard working hours,” she said.
“We have to spend 16 or 18 hours a day. We can’t even take care of our family members.”
Representatives of foreign domestic helpers slammed the government for not including working hours in contracts for helpers.
On June 13, the Executive Council passed a proposal to make it mandatory for bosses to pay workers overtime wages at rates no less than their regular salaries only if they earned HK$11,000 or less a month.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying wants a bill ready by the second half of 2018 for implemention by the end of 2020 or early 2021.
Representatives from the Labour Department said the contract working hours proposal was a “useful first step” and would be reviewed after two years – as with the minimum wage law.
There were a few supporters of the government proposal.
“Contract working hours allow employers and employees to negotiate,” Liberal Party legislator Shiu Ka-fai said. “You won’t be chained to your job. You can change it.”
Employer Ho Wang agreed with the threshold of HK$11,000 but said standard working hours would be detrimental to business owners because “an across-the-board approach to working hours” would not work as every business operated in different ways and needed flexibility.
“We shouldn’t create more conflicts between employers and employees,” he said.
According to official data for mid-2016, the median number of working hours per week for Hong Kong men was 45.7, and 44.3 for women.