Standard working hours legislation is not suitable for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 11:11pm

Those who reckon that standard working hours can ease the workload of employees make the claim on the assumption that work is only comprised of, and is limited to, tasks people do within office hours.

If that is the basis for our discussions on the potential benefits of the policy, we have to first make a distinction between the cases of blue-collar and white-collar workers.

There has been debate on who should be protected by standard working hours, but the general consensus is that only low-income workers will be included in the protection.

Standard working hours might help blue-collar workers achieve better work-life balance, as the workforce involved in labour-intensive jobs such as dishwashing and cleaning might be able to take more time off work, pursue personal interests and enjoy valuable time with family members.

In contrast, standardisation of working hours would do little to help improve the work-life balance of white-collar workers, as they have too much pending work to do.

The task to meet deadlines is an ongoing process, so white-collar workers find themselves working overtime to get things done. This has nothing to do with the number of hours they spend in the office, as they often have to take work home and sacrifice their leisure time to complete the jobs assigned to them.

It is evident that whether a work-life balance can be achieved depends on the company culture. If a company values work-life balance, it doesn’t matter if the working hours are short or long, as it would probably have some reasonable policies in place to ensure the emotional and physical health of its employees.

By contrast, a company that emphasises productivity at the expense of the well-being of its white-collar employees would probably come up with new rules to circumvent the regulation, or come up with policies that look law-abiding on paper but essentially make employees work longer hours at home.

Surely, Hong Kong cannot be compared to France, a country that emphasises leisure and quality life so much, so it’s unthinkable that our city would outlaw practices like requiring employees to answer work-related calls or e-mails outside office hours.

Nor is it practical to expect legislation to be put in place to issue a blanket ban on overtime.

However, at least we ought to have a rethink on how bona fide work-life balance can be achieved.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai