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Commuters in Central MTR station on October 5. Photo: Edmond So

Letters | Guidelines on working hours in Hong Kong too long in coming

  • Readers discuss the lack of progress on the development of sector-specific guidelines on working hours, and suggest the government develop tools to help professionals dealing with children make better decisions on reporting abuse
Hong Kong
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In 2013, the government established the Standard Working Hours Committee to follow up on a Labour Department report on the subject and to advise the chief executive, including on whether a statutory regime should be introduced. In 2017, based on territory-wide survey and consultation exercises, the committee submitted a 300-page report to the government and recommended a legislative approach to the matter. Specifically, it recommended that employers be required by law to enter into written contracts with lower-income workers to specify terms on working hours and overtime compensation arrangements.

The government decided not to pursue the statutory approach; instead, it established 11 working groups with representatives from the government, employers and workers to develop sector-specific working hours guidelines in 2017. Yet, according to the Labour Department, from 2017 to October 2022, only 123 meetings were held. Representatives from some industries, such as retail and theatre, only met five times in 2018 and 2019. Only four committees have held meetings in 2022. The seventh Legislative Council has not held a meeting on this matter since its term commenced on January 1.

In response to our inquiries on the lack of progress on guidelines on working hours, a representative of the Labour Department explained that many coordinating efforts and back-and-forth discussions have been required as employer and employee representatives often hold divergent views. The representative said that despite the current economic conditions, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020, the department has been making efforts to coordinate and facilitate discussion in the tripartite committees.

Given the importance of work-family balance to our society, we appeal to the Legislative Council Panel on Manpower to pressure the government to speed up the process of developing working hours guidelines. The difficult economic conditions are not a good excuse for not moving forward, as the local economy is likely to have recovered by the time the guidelines are ready.

Alan Yau and Howard Lam, Kowloon Tong

Adopt a structured approach to reporting child abuse

The government has proposed legislation requiring professionals, including social workers, teachers and medical practitioners, to report suspected child abuse cases.

The decision on whether to make a report should not rely solely on the subjective judgment of the social worker, teacher or relevant practitioner. Instead, it should be a professional decision facilitated by an appropriate reporting tool.

For example, the state of New South Wales in Australia introduced a “structured decision making” framework for those providing child protection services. A series of questions guides professionals in assessing the risk of a child abuse case and whether it requires reporting. Different factors, such as the age of the child and whether a carer is available to take care of the child, would be taken into account in determining whether the case needs to be reported and what actions should follow.

The Hong Kong government should seriously consider developing such a tool to facilitate the implementation of the reporting mechanism. Training practitioners in the use of the tool and the handling of suspected cases is essential.

The current proposal, with its three-tier classification, may confuse professionals, who may struggle to decide whether the suspected case meets the reporting threshold. When the legislation is newly introduced and support services are yet to be made available, it would be preferable to classify cases into two categories, only based on whether they meet the reporting definition.

Poyan Cheng, Cheung Sha Wan