Half of employers say that their staff work overtime because they are sorting out their private affairs during working hours, a survey says.

The survey, titled “How to resolve long working hours in Hong Kong” was jointly conducted by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and job recruitment website CTgoodjobs. 388 employers and 1643 employees were interviewed between June and August.

The interview results revealed that while most employers set the number of working hours to be 40-48 a week, 38 percent of employees work over 49 hours, indicating there is a problem with labour overtime in Hong Kong.

A banner at the Occupy Central protests of tycoon Li Ka-shing asking residents to “get back to work punctually”. Photo: Li’s Field via Facebook.

The survey also reflected a huge division between the views employers and employees hold on overtime work. 50 percent of employers believe that the overtime was caused by employees handling their private affairs during working hours, while only 30 percent of employees agree with this.

On the other hand, 80 percent of employees said that overtime was caused by the local work culture which deems it inappropriate for the employees to leave the office before their employers do. This fraction also agreed a shortage of staff and the nature of the business is to blame for the overtime.

Commuters in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikicommons.

In regards to standardising working hours, 47 percent of employers and 35 percent of employees doubt that the idea can be implemented. 70 percent of employees welcomed the idea of introducing family-friendly measures and flexible working hours, but more than half of the surveyed employers had reservations and worried that the mechanism would be abused by employees.

Professor Randy Chiu, Director for Human Resources Strategy and Development at BUHK, said that the results of the interviews reflected the lack of communication and trust in the employer and employee relationship, which worsens the long working hours issue.

Professor Randy Chiu discussing the survey results.

Professor Chiu also said that there was difficulty in the implementation of standard working hours. He said it would not suit all types of employment, and factors such as overtime payment need to be considered. He suggested companies introduce flexible work arrangements, a trend which he said could solve overtime problems in the long run that should be encouraged by the government.

Mung Siu-tat, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said he doubts the credibility of the survey, arguing that if an employer notes an employee handling private affairs at work, they would normally be disciplined or penalised, instead of being allowed to stay on and work overtime. He also said that if flexible working hours could indeed solve the overtime the problem, the Standard Working Hours Committee would not have needed to spend so many years researching the subject.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.