Motion on “Enacting Legislation on Standard Working Hours” (2015.06.04)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): President, the minimum wage system has been implemented for several years and has been working well. While workers have their wages guaranteed, the whole community has also benefited. Many people think that minimum wage and standard working hours are twin brothers, since minimum wage has been put in place, standard working hours should also be implemented. I know that many friends of the business sector are worried about standard working hours because their business environment will inevitably be affected. However, we should understand that standard working hours is a global trend and we shall accept it. Instead of worrying, we should actively participate in the discussion of the community and work out together a win-win solution to balance the demands and interests of all parties.

As we all know, Hong Kong people work very long hours; according to a survey of the Census and Statistics Department conducted in the past, the median weekly working hours of Hong Kong people was 45.3 hours, more than 720 000 workers worked over 54 hours a week, and 80 000-odd people worked more than 68 hours a week. Long working hours and heavy work pressure naturally make people feel unhappy, no wonder Hong Kong people live an unhappy life.

In 2009, I moved a motion to urge the Government to promote a new job culture of work-life balance, the motion was then passed by the Legislative Council. The motion was moved in the hope that the Government would encourage employers to introduce measures to allow employees to, apart from working, pay more attention about personal and family life, in order to ease the pressure of work and life. Many previous studies had pointed out that if one could achieve a work-life balance, he would have a happier family life, the staff would be sound in body and mind and society would also be more harmonious. At present, society is filled with grievances, one of the major reasons is that society and families are facing great pressures. If assistance can be provided to employees to alleviate their pressure in life, their productivity can be enhanced, resulting in a positive impact on businesses. This is the win-win labour situation that we often talk about.

President, I support the direction of setting standard working hours, but we must address the concerns of the business sector, because the implementation cost will eventually be borne by employers eventually. In fact, the system of standard working hours is much more complicated than that of minimum wage. The focus of the minimum wage system is how to formulate the minimum wage level, but for standard working hours, we have to consider many complex issues, such as how to formulate the number of standard working hours, overtime compensation, the maximum weekly working hours, as well as exemptions. All these are controversial issues. In fact, should the number of standard working hours be set at 44? Should the disadvantaged low-paid workers be protected first? We will leave these issues to the Standard Working Hours Committee (SWHC) for in-depth study. If we cannot resolve the disputes appropriately, it will only lead to further labour conflicts, and the opportunity to reach a consensus will be minimal.

Besides, most companies in Hong Kong are small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Given their limited resources, the standard working hours system may have a great impact on them, they may not have sufficient resources to meet with market changes. The Government has a responsibility to help SMEs resolve problems, for example, subsidies and financing programs may be provided to help SMEs cope with the new changes.

Another problem is that different trades and industries have different characteristics, it may be easier to implement standard working hours in the manufacturing sector, but it may be more difficult to implement in service and transport industries. Therefore, the authorities should consider whether standard working hours should be implemented across the board in various industries. According to the experience of other regions, standard working hours cannot be implemented across the board. In some places, jobs of specific nature, duties or industries are exempted from the restriction of working hours, but in most areas, the regulation is enforced with flexibility, allowing employers of some industries to handle the issue of working hours flexibly. In implementing the standard working hours system, due consideration should be made on these issues.

The SWHC has earlier reached a consensus on three principles, which include enacting legislation to regulate working hours, stipulating the hours of work in employment contracts, as well as giving priority to protect disadvantaged workers who work long hours for low wages. Members of the SWHC said that a lot of data research must be conducted and they hoped that a report would be submitted to the Government in the first quarter of next year as scheduled.

I hope the labour sector would understand that all parties are making efforts now. As the system will have extensive and in-depth implications, members of SWHC have to spend more time on research. I hope the research can produce accurate findings, and solutions can be proposed to deal with the issue, so that the business sector would can feel relieved and support the system. I so submit.

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