The Executive Council (Exco) raced against time last week to pass the government proposal of implementing “contractual working hours” (CWH), which allows employers and employees to agree on the number of daily working hours that both sides have to observe when negotiating their contracts.
However, it appears the labor sector is anything but grateful to the outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for his “good-bye gift”. In fact some key figures in the labor sector have pointed out that they definitely won’t settle for the CWH as an alternative to legislating for standard working hours which they have been fighting for over the years.
It is because, according to them, employees could be worse off if the CWH is implemented since it would only encourage employers to further lengthen the working hours stipulated in their contracts with the staff.
Yet, if members of the labor sector are looking to the incoming CE Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to grant them their wish, they are likely to be disappointed.
It is because, sources say, Lam has already made it crystal clear, during a private meeting earlier with lawmakers from different political parties, that she has no intention to legislate for standard working hours during her term of office as CE.
According to the sources, Lam said labor rights issues must be handled with extra caution and patience, warning that if the matter is dealt with poorly, it could spark controversy in society.
Besides, she is said to have argued that legislating for standard working hours is a very complicated issue.
As job nature and duties often vary a great deal from industry to industry, it is both infeasible and impractical to legislate for universal standard working hours that can apply to every industry, Lam said, according to the sources.
To buttress the argument, she is said to have pointed out that even the labor sector itself has acknowledged the huge difficulties involved in pressing ahead with the initiative.
Given the situation, she’d rather not touch on this highly delicate and controversial issue.
However, according to the sources, as far as scrapping the so-called offsetting mechanism of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) is concerned, Lam has told lawmakers that even though it is also a very controversial issue, she is confident that she can pull that off during her term in office.
Now, if Lam is determined not to legislate for standard working hours, she will have a hard time convincing the general public, many of whom are suffering from long working hours, of the merits of her decision.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 21
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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