According to UBS’ annual prices and earnings study, Hong Kong employees toil for an average of 50.1 hours per week and only take 17 days of annual paid holiday, putting us in last place compared to 71 global cities. The city’s workforce works 38 percent longer than the global average, 50 percent longer than Londoners, and 62 percent longer than Parisians. Much of this stems from the fact that Hong Kong still does not have any standard working hours legislation despite repeated lobbying by unions and activists. Hong Kong’s labour laws have long lagged behind its European and other South-East Asia counterparts, for example the city only adopted minimum wage legislation in 2011. Many unions and lobbyists have expressed support for regulating standard working hours at 44 hours per week with the overtime hourly rate set at 1.5 times the normal rate, drawing it in line with Singapore’s current employment legislation. They say that the tough work ethic has contributed to an inflated rate of stress among employees with surveys finding that one quarter of the city’s employees showed levels of depression and anxiety.
The Standard Working Hours Committee was set up in 2013. It is tasked with the important missions of promoting public understanding and in-depth discussion of this complex subject, and advising the Government on the working hours policy, including whether a statutory standard working hours regime or any other alternatives should be considered. The second-stage public consultation has recently been completed and the Committee is analysing the comments received to prepare a report to be submitted to the Government. In short, the second-stage consultation looks into the following matters:
- “Big frame” – a legislative approach to mandatorily require employers and employees to enter into written employment contracts, which shall include the specified working hours - 6 - terms, such as overtime compensation arrangements;
- “Small frame” – on the premise of the “big frame”, introduction of other suitable measures such as setting a working hours standard and an overtime pay rate to further protect grassroots employees with lower income, lower skills and less bargaining power; and
Whether an across-the-board uniform standard of working hours should 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.
The working hours policy closely concerns employees and employers of various trades and occupations, and will bring about farreaching implications. The community at large should undergo critical examination and deliberation of the subject, taking into account the local social and economic situation before deciding the way forward. At least six key issues should be considered:
a. the objective of a working hours policy in Hong Kong;
b. how regulation of working hours will affect labour flexibility and Hong Kong’s competitiveness;
c. employers may reduce full-time jobs of longer working hours, resulting in an increase in parttime jobs and fragmentation of work;
d. the affordability of the business sector particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in complying with the statutory Standard Working Hours;
e. whether working hours regulation should be imposed across-theboard, or whether it should be introduced to industries or occupations with particularly long working hours; and
f. whether legislation is the best way forward.