Panel on working hours looks for direction

Top News | Yupina Ng 26 Apr 2016

A three-month public consultation on standard working hours based on written contracts specifying working hours rather than being mandated in law kicked off yesterday.

But the Standard Working Hours Committee is pressing ahead with the second round of the public consultation without all six employee representatives who quit the panel after calling for a standard working week of 44 hours to be regulated.

The 23-strong government-appointed committee is seeking views on four policy directions: a legislative approach to require employers and employees to come up with specified working-hour terms on written contracts called "big frame;" whether there is a need for other measures to provide further protection for those whose monthly salaries do not exceed HK$25,000, referred to as "small frame;" a combination of these two; or other recommendations such as formulating guidelines for individual sectors.

The committee rejected an across-the-board standard as this would not work because of the different nature of jobs.

Chairman Edward Leong Che-hung said: "I want the labor members and friends to tell me how they would like to see the lower-income group protected. Give me a solution. Give me ideas, so we can discuss."

Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan criticized the committee for dragging its feet.

"There had already been one consultation," he said. "And from that consultation very clearly there should be regulation of working hours. But now they are going back to square one. It won't be settled in the term of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying."

Leong said the detailed consultation paper was based on an opinion survey on working hours with 1,507 opinions collected from trade associations and labour unions during the first consultation in 2014.

Lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu, a member of the Federation of Trade Unions, said the consultation document is not comprehensive.

"There should be a fifth option: an `across-the-board' standard working hours," said Tang.

The consultation paper estimates that wage costs of enterprises will increase by HK$21.63 billion based on an overtime pay rate of 1:1.5 for those earning not more than HK$25,000 and working 44 hours a week.

It also claimed an increase in wage bill might also lead to 500 to 34,000 jobs lost.

Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong president Eddy Li Sau-hung told The Standard that employers and employees should formulate the contract terms according to the business environment.

"I support the `big frame' contract because it serves as a mutual agreement between employer and employee," said Li.

Asked how employees could bargain with their bosses on contract hours, Li said: "Don't work on this job and look for another one."

The second-stage consultation is expected to be complete by July 24. Recommendations will be submitted to the government after an analysis of the results.

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