Legislating standard working hours could push up labour costs and lead to an increase in inflation and job losses at the grassroots level, a government task force warned on Wednesday.

The Standing Working Hours Committee has nevertheless “in principle” agreed to “recommend exploring a legislative approach” to standardise working hours and overtime pay in employment contracts.

Photo: HKFP.

In the committee’s report, researchers laid out an alarming scenario whereby more than 34,000 jobs could be cut for people who earn HK$15,000 or less a month if a standard working week is limited to 44 hours and employers have to pay employees 1.5 times their normal wage for overtime work.

The prediction assumes economic growth of zero. If growth is at two per cent, potential job losses for people of the same salary range, whom the committee described as “with lower income, lower skills and less bargaining power,” will decrease to around 11,600. But increased labour costs will push up consumer prices by about 2 percent, the report said.

Standard working hours legislation is also likely to worsen labour shortages, with the size of the city’s workforce expected to peak in 2018, the report said. This is bad for Hong Kong’s long-term economic development, the report added.

In conclusion, the committee suggested policymakers find a  balance between employers and employees interests and take into consideration the potential impact of standard working hours legislation on the economy and job market.

An eight-hour day campaign banner, Melbourne, 1856. Photo: Wikicommons.

A 2012 report by the Labour Department revealed that the average working hours of a full-time employee in Hong Kong is 49 hours. Standard working hours around the world are generally around 40 to 44 hours per week.

The news came as Sweden works to enact a six-hour work day, according to the Independent.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.