On 28 January 2014, the Standard Working Hours Committee launched a public consultation exercise on working hours in Hong Kong.
The introduction of standard working hours has the potential to benefit employees in a number of ways including (i) better health and safety; (ii) reduction of uncompensated overtime; (iii) better work-life balance; and (iv) possible creation of more job opportunities, particularly part-time and temporary openings. There are, however, possible disadvantages which include the hampering of operational flexibility of businesses, forcing a business to shut down or relocate due to high operational costs, the replacement of workers by automation, employers ceasing to provide services that are no longer profitable, and the additional pressure on inflation due to higher costs.
Whether to formulate a working hours policy in Hong Kong and whether legislation is the best way forward is a complex question and requires a detailed consideration of not only the opposing needs and wants of employers and employees but also the impact on Hong Kong’s long-term economic development. The Policy Study on Standard Working Hours issued by the Labour Department lists six key questions the community must consider in evaluating whether to introduce a working hours regime in Hong Kong. These are as follows: (i) the objective of a working hours policy in Hong Kong; (ii) how will the policy affect labour flexibility and Hong Kong’s competitiveness; (iii) whether such a policy may result in an increase in part-time jobs and/or fragmented work conditions; (iv) the affordability of the business sector particularly the small and medium enterprises in complying with a statutory framework; (v) whether a regulation governing working hours should be imposed across the board or only for certain industries with particularly long working hours; and (vi) whether legislation is the best way forward.
At least 30 symposia or forums are expected to take place in the first half of 2014 involving labour organisations and various members of the community including sectors with relatively longer working hours, specific occupations/professions, the general public in various districts, and other major industries and organisations.