Hon KP Chan on Expeditiously Implementing the Formulation of Standard Working Hours:
• Minimum wage has been in effect for a month. Trade unions estimate at least 100 000 wage earners have been benefited, average pay increased as high as 20%. The implementation of minimum wage well illustrates that the relation between employees and employers is not polarized. It is possible for the two sides to reach a consensus through consultation as well as through peaceful and sensible discussions.
• Employees who gain most from minimum wage are those at the lowest level. Standard working hours, however, will benefit all wage earners. The spirit of standard working hours is that employers are forbidden by law to force employees to work in excess of the weekly statutory hours. Employees may opt not to work overtime. If overtime work is required, employers are required to give employees overtime pay.
• In Hong Kong, most people work long hours, irrespective of the types or ranks of their work. In addition to affecting the health of employees, working parents have less time to spend with their children and for family life. The reasons why I have all along supported minimum wage and standard working hours, as well as work-life balance is to rebuild family-oriented core values.
• Following the implementation of minimum wage, many grass-roots workers have been benefited. But the adverse effects of minimum wage have also started to emerge one after another. The most obvious impact is that middle-aged or elderly employees with low educational attainment and low skills have been laid off, in particular security guards senior in age in residential buildings. According to information from the Minimum Wage Committee, even though more than 310 000 people could get an immediate pay rise after the implementation of minimum wage, we have lost 40 000 posts.
• Another problem is Hong Kong has now entered the high inflation period with rising rents. Under the requirement of minimum wage, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) bear the brunt as they are overburdened with the surging wage cost. In the face of minimum wage and the competition law, as well as the study on standard working hours by the Government, SMEs are overburdened. The Government should give the matter further thought and address the issue of standard working hours with caution.
• Standard working hours are not that dreadful. To gain acceptance by the public, the Government must step up the communication with the business sector, especially SMEs, listen carefully to the opinions of employers; decision should only be made after extensive consultation and due consideration of the interests of various stakeholders, so as to avoid the recurrence of the grey areas concerning paid rest day and paid meal breaks. The Government should first conduct topical studies in various areas, which include making reference to the experience in other countries, so as to pave the way for a consultation.
• In Hong Kong, employees generally have to work excessively long hours. This is definitely detrimental to their health and family life. Though the operating cost of different trades will rise when standard working hours are set, it would, in the long run, bring benefits to the entire society if employees are happy and healthy. In enacting any legislation, the business environment and competitiveness of Hong Kong should both be taken into consideration. Through negotiation, we can reach an agreement acceptable to employers and employees. Standard working hours should be implemented in accordance with the overall affordability of our society and economy. An across-the-board measure cannot be accepted by the society. I hope the Government will expeditiously conduct consultation work, so as to get prepared for legislation. In this way, Hong Kong people can, as soon as possible, enjoy a well balanced life between living and working.