Staff who work less than 18 hours a week should be given employees' benefits such as paid holidays and severance pay, lawmakers said yesterday. They were referring to the '4-18' threshold in the Employees Ordinance, which states that bosses do not have to offer such benefits to their workers unless they have worked for four weeks or more and more than 18 hours each week. Labour unionists of the manpower panel called for cancellation of the threshold, saying some employers had their staff work for only 17 hours a week to avoid the responsibility. The call was backed by legislators 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung and Andrew Cheng Kar-foo of the Democratic Party. 'I really hope that the government will seriously look into the Employees Ordinance overall to give better protection for workers,' said Li Fung-ying, who represents the labour constituency. Legislator Chan Yuen-han, vice-chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions, said many department stores hired part-time workers for only 17 hours a week just so they could avoid giving them the extra benefits. Even though the retail industry had improved, with more mainland tourists coming to the city, she said workers were not benefiting. Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he would look into the issue but needed to consider the extra burden on employers. He said it could affect part-time domestic helpers getting jobs because it might deter an average family from hiring them if they had to worry about paying for such benefits. The administration would start by conducting a survey of the number of people who work less than 18 hours a week, Mr Cheung said. It should be completed and ready for legislators next year. A similar survey conducted in 2001 found that 5 per cent of employees worked less than 18 hours a week. About half of them were aged 30 to 39. Under the law, all workers, no matter how many hours they work, are entitled to certain rights, including protection against unlawful dismissal, granting of statutory holidays and payment of wages. But those who meet the '4-18' requirement can also get rest days, and pay during holidays, maternity leave, sick leave and long-service pay.