The Standard Working Hours Committee (Committee) has recently agreed in principle to recommend introducing legislation to regulate the working hours of employees in Hong Kong. However, an ‘across the board’/uniform standard of working hours will not be imposed on all industries so as to provide the necessary flexibility in view of the varied work nature and requirements of different sectors and occupations.
There is currently no general statutory provision which prescribes standard or maximum working hours in Hong Kong. The Government conducted the Report of the Policy Study on Standard Working Hours (SWH) in November 2012.
In April 2013, the Committee was formed by the Government for the purposes of:
- Following up on the Government’s policy study on SWH
- Promoting understanding of this subject
- Advising the Government on the working hours situation in Hong Kong, including whether a statutory SWH regime, or an alternative regime should be introduced
In late March 2015, the Committee proposed a mandatory requirement for employers and employees to enter into written employment contracts specifying working hour arrangements such as overtime pay, to protect employees. The possible working hours employment terms, however, are still subject to further studies and consultation. The Committee is also considering whether there is a need to impose additional measures to protect grassroots employees who tend to have less bargaining power.
The Committee’s proposals were made following dedicated household and self-administered surveys and extensive public engagement and consultation on working hours. Some of the interesting findings from these surveys, which were completed by over three million employees in Hong Kong, included:
- The average and median total working hours over a particular seven day period were 43.5 hours and 44 hours respectively
- Those employees with lower educational achievements had longer median weekly working hours of 48 hours
- Just over a quarter of employees had worked overtime, with 7.3% compensated for overtime work while 18.4% had not been paid for overtime
- The top three working hours policy objectives of employees were:
- “Better work-life balance for employees” (37.5%)
- “Protecting occupational safety and health” (27.7%)
- “Specifying compensation for overtime work” (19%)
- The top three working hours policy objectives of employers were:
- “Protecting occupational safety and health” (32.7%)
- “Better work-life balance for employees” (26.1%), and
- “Maintaining a favourable business environment” (10.9%)
The public’s views on whether there should be a statutory SWH regime in Hong Kong are mixed. Some employers are concerned about the shortage of manpower in some specific industries and the potential increase in the wages bill which will potentially have the greatest impact on small and medium sized companies. However, others believe that standard working hours can boost productivity, create job opportunities and improve employees’ working conditions.
Going forward, the Committee noted that it should consider carefully various factors in formulating a suitable working hours policy for Hong Kong, including overtime work, as well as the possible impact of SWH on employers, employees, enterprises and the Hong Kong economy.