Pro-business legislators last night blocked a call for legislation to make it compulsory for employers to provide staff with meal breaks and a rest day each week. They said improvements in labour welfare during the economic downturn would further damage business performance. Unionist and medical legislators warned that workers' health would be seriously affected if the situation of long hours and no breaks was allowed to continue. Moving a motion at the Legco meeting, Lau Chin-shek of the Confederation of Trade Unions urged the Government to amend labour legislation. 'Hong Kong should never be a sweatshop like those in Karl Marx's time, and we cannot accept that workers should sacrifice both their mental and physical health in exchange for jobs,' Mr Lau said. The Employment Ordinance recommends employers and workers agree on one day off a week. But this is for firms to negotiate with staff and is not compulsory. Government figures show that more than 125,000 workers do not have meal breaks during working hours. Of these workers, more than 30,000 have to work for 10 hours without a break. Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, of the Liberal Party, said legislating for fixed meal breaks and rest days would undermine business flexibility. Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fan said the laws were adequate. 'The most important thing is to improve the economy,' she said.