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Hong Kong economy

Hong Kong government studying link between long working hours and employee deaths

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong says there is a multitude of factors influencing cases where people die at work, and a clear definition is ‘difficult’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 9:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 10:20pm

The Hong Kong government is studying the link between long working hours and employee deaths in a bid to clearly define such cases in the future, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong said on Wednesday.

Law was asked in a written question by insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por about the number of suspected cases of “deaths from overexertion” in Hong Kong, citing by-census data which showed 11.1 per cent of some 3.43 million employees worked 60 hours or more a week.

“Around 32,000 [0.9 per cent] even worked 75 hours or more a week,’’ Chan said.

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He noted public concerns about excessively long hours of work easily triggering “various kinds of occupational diseases”, including “sudden deaths” from overexertion.

Chan said Japan and Taiwan already had definitions for “death from overexertion”.

The latest case in Japan involved 31-year-old media worker Miwa Sado, who reportedly logged 159 hours of overtime in one month before dying of heart failure in July 2013. The incident was only made public by her former employer, public broadcaster NHK, in October last year.

Law said that as “sudden deaths caused by overexertion at work” had no clear definition in Hong Kong, there were no local statistics on such cases.

“The causes of sudden death other than by work accident during employment are complex, and may involve a multitude of factors including personal health condition, heredity, eating or living habits, work nature and environment,” he said.

It would be “very difficult” to determine whether workload or work pressure had contributed to the sudden death of an employee, he said.

But he said the government had engaged the Occupational Safety and Health Council to conduct a consultancy study on the matter.

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“The study commenced in the first quarter of 2018. Depending on the outcome, the government will consider the next steps, including whether to define ‘sudden deaths caused by overexertion at work’,” Law said.

Although the city does not have a policy on standard working hours, public consultations have been conducted since the Standard Working Hours Committee was set up in 2013.

The committee published a report and its recommendations for such a policy last June, which was endorsed by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

“We understand that the community has divergent views on the legislative proposals put forward by the last-term government on the subject of working hours,” Law said. “We will continue to listen to the views of the community.”

He said the Labour Department had started to formulate 11 sector-specific working hours guidelines through its industry-based tripartite committees to provide suggested arrangements, overtime compensation methods and good working hours management measures.

These were for the reference of employers and for them to adopt to improve the working hours of staff, Law added.