Any law on standard working hours may have to exclude staff in public and emergency services as well as company executives, a labor official said.
A special committee will be set up to run the rule over that and other issues, Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Policy Support) Nicholas Chan Chun-tak said at yesterday's weekly City Forum.
Chan stressed overseas practices cannot be observed wholesale in the SAR, given Hong Kong's reliance on service industries.
Public services, especially those relating to emergencies, are clear exceptions to any rule, he added.
An employers' representative on the Labour Advisory Board, Stanley Lau Chin- ho, said, as expected, that encouragement should be the way forward, rather than legislation.
For standard statutory working hours will increase costs and undermine competitiveness of small and medium-size enterprises.
"We worry that the legislation will affect the business environment. It will lower our competitiveness and flexibility, which in the end increases the operating cost," Lau said.
He added overseas experience has shown that standard working hours may not be a good thing, as more part-time workers will be hired and paid on a weekly or hourly basis.
"Many countries want to return to old systems and increase working hours. However, it causes chaos," Lau said, referring to Spain and Greece, which have laws in place on standard working hours.
But employees' representative Ng Wai- yee said there is no disputing that working hours in Hong Kong are excessively long and that the labor side is united in demanding the introduction of standard working hours.
According to a government report, a quarter of the 3.7 million employees in Hong Kong need to work overtime -but only half of them get paid for it.