Changes could burden the economy, but may bring Hong Kong working hours in line with those of other countries

The Hong Kong Labour and Welfare Bureau formed a Special Committee (the Committee) on 9 April 2013 to consider whether standard working hours (SWH) should be introduced in Hong Kong.

The Committee is examining issues set out in the Hong Kong Labour Department’s November 2012 Report of the Policy Study on Standard Working Hours (the Report), including:

  1. The existing working hours in Hong Kong
  2. The potential impact of introducing SWH
  3. The framework which might govern SWH
  4. The nature of SWH policies established in other regions

Amongst other things, the Report assesses the probable impact of imposing SWH in Hong Kong if the SWH policy were to have the following characteristics:

  1. Weekly SWH of 40–48 hours
  2. Overtime pay rate for working beyond SWH of between 100–150 percent of SWH rate
  3. No exemption from the SWH policy for “higher-skilled” employees.

The Report estimates that in such circumstances, the annual wages paid to the Hong Kong workforce would increase between 1.7 percent and 11.4 percent beyond the wages paid in 2011 — an increase of between HK$8.0 billion and HK$55.2 billion. The additional financial burden that such overtime payments would impose upon the economy is one of the issues to be examined by the Committee in assessing whether SWH should be introduced.

The Committee is also considering the fundamental issue of whether maximum working hours (typically defined as an upper threshold of working hours not to be exceeded whatsoever, or to be exceeded only in extremely limited circumstances) should be imposed in addition, or as an alternative, to SWH (generally defined as a number of working hours which may be exceeded but only when overtime pay is offered in compensation). The question of whether a SWH policy should be introduced by legislation, as opposed to using industryspecific guidelines, is also under scrutiny by the Committee.

The Report’s proposed SWH regime does not significantly deviate from those imposed in other countries, both within the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide. An International Labour Organization study found that 101 of 107 countries surveyed have introduced a SWH regime in some form, of which 41 percent adopted a 40 hour week and approximately 59 percent a 40–48 hour week.

Should the SWH be introduced, the economic security offered by overtime pay would supplement the financial protection granted to Hong Kong’s workforce by the recent introduction of a minimum wage pursuant to the entry into force of the Minimum Wage Ordinance (Cap. 608) on 1 May 2011.