Working hours plan cheats ordinary people, Hong Kong unionist says, but businesses warn of lay-offs

Framework only applies to those earning up to HK$11,000 a month – well below the average of around HK$15,500

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 12:14pm

The government’s proposal to regulate working hours for the low-paid has been dismissed as useless by some workers, while businesses fear higher costs might trigger lay-offs.

The proposal, which was passed by the Executive Council on Tuesday, mandates employers to negotiate and indicate clearly the number of working hours in written contracts with employees earning HK$11,000 or below a month.

Overtime will be paid at no less than their regular rate.

As the city’s monthly wage averaged around HK$15,500 in 2016, unionists and grass-roots workers expressed anger at the framework, saying it would not improve the situation.

“We feel extremely disappointed and angry about the decision,” said Tang Ka-piu, of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.

“The new regulatory framework can in no way compare to the standard working hours proposal made by us trade unions. We will keep on pressing the new government to solve this problem.”

For years, unions have demanded that working hours be standardised at 40 to 44 hours a week regardless of how much employees are paid. They also say that employers should pay staff 1.5 times their regular wage for every extra hour worked.

This proposal cheats ordinary workers as the number of people it covers is quite small
Mung Siu-tat, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

Mung Siu-tat, chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said the proposal was a hasty move so that the next administration would not have to deal with this long-term “headache”.

“This proposal cheats ordinary workers as the number of people it covers is quite small,” he said. “It is only a big compromise the government is making to business circles.”

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will be succeeded by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on July 1.

Grass-roots workers also expressed their discontent.

Chee Wai-kuen, a 68-year-old van driver, said he and his colleagues usually had to work 14 hours a day from 7am to 9pm for HK$19,000 a month. The new policy did nothing for them as their pay far exceeded the dividing line even though they had extremely long hours.

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An accountant who had just quit due to the long working hours said she did not think the framework had any substantial meaning as employees in reality lacked the power to negotiate over hours with their bosses.

On the opposite side, Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades, believed operating costs could increase.

“I can understand the needs of normal workers to have standardised working hours as they crave more protection,” he said, “but the new framework could lead to more lay-offs as operating costs will increase.”

Additional reporting by Tracy Zhang.