Working hours in Hong Kong

Some employers are surprised to learn that (save for rules regarding children, young persons in industrial undertakings, statutory holidays and rest days) there is no regulatory framework restricting or monitoring standard working hours (SWH) in Hong Kong. This may change following an announcement by the consultation committee in May 2015 recommending that new legislation be enacted in this area.

Employers with operations in the UK and Europe will be familiar with the concept of ‘working time’ and the complex related issues that arise, such as paying the national minimum wage, rest breaks, on-call arrangements and roles involving significant travel. For a region with a mature and developed economy, Hong Kong’s lack of regulation is unusual.

In 2012, the Labour Department published its “Report of the Policy Study on Standard Working Hours” (“Report”). The Report assessed SWH regimes globally, reviewed SWH in Hong Kong and the potential socio-economic impact of SWH regulation. The Report posed more questions than it answered and outlined a number of areas for further consideration, including the impact on business and potential proliferation of casual workers.

In April 2013, the SWH Committee was formed for a three-year term, a consultation commenced in January 2014 and a survey of 10,000+ employees and employers was commissioned. Interestingly, the survey confirmed:

  • median weekly hours ranged from 40.0 - 54.0;
  • 7% employees had undertaken paid overtime with 18% undertaking unpaid overtime (median being 5.0 hours each);
  • 61% employees’ contracts were silent on overtime compensation;
  • the commonest overtime pay rate was 1:1 (75%);
  • 92% employees ‘agreed’ working hours should be agreed between the employer and employee;
  • 67% employees ‘agreed’ SWH should be set; and
  • <45% of employers ‘agreed’ that maximum working hours limits were appropriate.

In May 2015, the Committee confirmed that a legislative approach was recommended, to include a requirement for written employment contracts to specify working hours arrangements (the ‘big-frame’ approach). Consideration is still being given to other suitable measure(s) to protect grassroots employees ('small frame'). A final report is likely in Q1 2016.

Unfortunately, there is currently no further information on what the ‘big-frame’ or ‘small-frame’ approaches might look like or how they will be applied in practice. However, legislation is likely to be ‘light touch’ compared with other jurisdictions.