Government-appointed committee members were at odds on just about everything at their first meeting on standard working hours yesterday.
The only things they could agree on in the two-hour closed-door session were that they will meet every two months and that a wide-ranging public consultation on the issue is a must.
Among the 23 committee members - representatives of workers and employers, academics and officials - not everyone agreed even with the timetable for their task. "Taking three years to decide whether legislation [on standard working hours] is necessary is just silly," said employee representative and labour unionist Stanley Ng Chau-pei.
"We hope to have a preliminary plan by the middle of that - in a year. By three years, we hope to have agreed on a standard for the legislation."
Ng said long hours and overtime were common in Hong Kong and it was unfair.
Business representative Ho Sai-chu said he "didn't see a need for legislation" on standard working hours. "We can examine the [earlier] report and look at examples from overseas, then come up with ways to improve working hours," Ho said.
Professor Leung Cho-bun said the policy paper released last year which Ho referred to needed to be updated, and any decisions made by the committee should be based on solid statistics.
Committee chairman Dr Leong Che-hung said he could see the road towards a standard working hours law would be long and arduous.
"If everyone agreed with each other, we wouldn't need this committee," he said.
The committee is to be split into five groups to discuss different topics. Leong said once there is a "more certain direction" it will look at a public consultation. "The standard working hours debate is a complicated one. Some see it as part of our culture. It will affect our economy, our health and quality of life.
"We need widespread consultation on the issue and long debates before any conclusion can be reached."