Face Off: Should the government enact standard working hours?

YP ReporterYP ReporterBianca Chan

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic.This week …

YP ReporterYP ReporterBianca Chan |

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Snehaa Senthamilselvan Easwari, 15, South Island School

Ever since the minimum wage legislation was put in place in 2011, labour unions have been pushing for the introduction of standard working hours. If the government approves such a law, it will be a severe blow to Hong Kong's economy. The city thrives on a flexible labour market. Unlike the minimum wage, which mostly affects the bottom end of the labour market, standard working hours legislation would cover the entire workforce. This would badly disrupt many companies, both big and small, and reduce their efficiency.

Introducing standard working hours is also not very practical. This is because Hong Kong has a wide distribution of the working hours, making it nearly impossible to legislate a uniform set of hours for jobs without causing serious damage to the city's economy.

According to a 2012 Labour Department report, around 85 per cent of the labour force worked more than 40 hours per week. If standard working hours are introduced, employers could face an additional wage bill ranging from HK$8 billion to HK$55.2 billion, and 50.6 per cent to 91.1 per cent of full-time employees could be affected, the report said.

There are some important lessons to be learned from Hong Kong's economic success. Firstly, the working hours are determined by supply and demand and these have declined as wage rates increased, except for specific areas such as finance and business.

Secondly, highly skilled workers in such areas are working longer hours due to labour supply shortages. The introduction of standard working hours will only worsen this problem, leading to economic instability.

Hence, standard working hours could have a serious impact on Hong Kong's future prosperity.

Both the government and trade unions need to come up with better ideas to help Hongkongers achieve a good balance between work and family life.

Bianca Chan, 17, Maryknoll Convent School

Standard working hours are meant to protect Hong Kong's workers. Such a law would regulate the weekly working hours and make employers pay overtime to those who work beyond the required hours. Hopefully, it would promote a work-life balance and raise people's standard of living.

Critics of the legislation have put forward arguments borrowed from economics textbooks. They warned that it would push up labour costs and lead to an increase in inflation and job losses.

These claims may be applicable to European countries, where the economies are stagnant, and companies are laying off staff. But Hong Kong is a different story. Our jobless rate is around 3.3 per cent, which is basically full employment in economic terms.

We have a robust economy and many firms, such as those in the construction industry, are facing a shortage of workers. According to government statistics, more than 580,000 workers need to work for more than 60 hours per week. Even if Hong Kong introduces standard working hours, these companies cannot cut down on their staff without downsizing their operations.

Long working hours can also have a negative impact on people's health and their family life, surveys have revealed.

Standard working hours can be compared to the minimum wage legislation. When the minimum wage was introduced four years ago, critics said it would cause job losses and hurt Hong Kong's economy. But no such thing has happened. Today, the unskilled workers have benefitted from the legislation and our economy is as strong as ever.

For the sake of their health and families, Hongkongers deserve to enjoy standard working hours irrespective of the jobs they do.