Standard Working Hours Legislation

Speech of the Hon K P Chan, JP at the Legislation Council on 25 June 2010 Motion Debate On Standard Working Hours

MR President: Hong Kong is known for long working hours. It does not matter what job one does or how senior one is. Most people have to work long hours, and overtime is almost a norm. Such daily life certainly impacts on people’s health and family relations, giving rise to many social problems. The Motion of the Hon Leung Ka-lau today calls for legislating for standard work-hour and it is an opportunity for the community to review the situation.

In fact, standard work-hour is instigated in many countries in America, Europe and Asia. Although we are a cosmopolitan, relevant law is still lacking in Hong Kong. Many employees are working overtime without compensation for prolonged periods.

Last December, I tabled a Motion in this Council to “urge the Government to promote new occupational culture of work/life balance”. It was proposed with a view to encouraging the business sector to introduce measures like flexible working hours, flexible leaves or more caring acts to relieve stress in work and to allow employees more time for family life. It was hoped that the Government would act on it at the earliest. It is timely to look into standard work-hour and promote public discussions.

The original Motion says that due considerations would be given to local business environment and competitiveness in legislating for standard work-hour. I fully agree to this principle. With these provisos, the Hon Leung’s Motion would have a better chance of getting through. We all know that a purpose of having functional constituencies is for directly-elected Members to propose topics of livelihood on the one hand and for business-related Members to voice their concerns on the other hand. It is hoped that through negotiations and reconciliation both camps would reach consensus on mutually acceptable terms. The Hon Leung is doing precise this. Therefore, if both business environment and competitiveness are duly considered, I believe the Motion is worth supporting.

Currently, America and Europe have different practices in standard work-hour. In America, employers have the right to ask their staff to work overtime but the extra hours are compensated by one-and-half times of basic pay. In Europe, employees have the discretion to work overtime or not. In my view, if standard working-hour were introduced to Hong Kong, both the employer and employee should negotiate terms and practices on the basis of mutual respect. The guiding principle is that overtime should be compensated and practices should be established through extensive public consultations.

This Council is considering a Bill on minimum wages and we look forward to its passing not before too long. Through deliberations and discussion of this Bill, the business sector should realize at least to some extent that labour laws are not necessarily destructive. As long as both sides dialogue in good faith, undue misunderstanding would be removed and problems would be resolved. Moreover, minimum wage and standard working-hour are complementary. In my view, statutory standard working-hour might be considered after legislating for minimum wages is completed.

Some people in the business sector are worrying that standard work-hour might push up operating costs. It is undoubtedly factual. Yet, standard work-hour would mean more reasonable compensation and staff would be more willing to work overtime. Eventually, the twin goals of raising productivity and improving work quality would be accomplishable. In fact, prolonged overtime might reflect falling work efficiency arising from prolonged work fatigue. When staff has sufficient time of rest, their work efficiency and quality would improve significantly. If higher operating costs meant higher staff productivity, enterprises would benefit ultimately.

Mr President, with these observations, I conclude my remarks.

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