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Opening remarks by SLW at press conference on Policy Study on Standard Working Hours (with video)

     Following are the opening remarks by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the press conference on Policy Study on Standard Working Hours today (November 26):

     Acknowledging the concerns in the community over employees' long working hours in Hong Kong, the Administration took the initiative to launch a policy study on standard working hours (SWH) last year. The study aims to provide a solid and objective basis for an informed and in-depth public discussion on the subject of SWH. The report discusses the subject in comprehensive and objective terms and identifies the key issues that need to be examined in depth by the Government, employers, employees and the community at large before deciding on the way forward.

     I should point out that the relatively long working hours situation in Hong Kong is a subject of considerable public concern and needs to be addressed. This has much to do with Hong Kong's heavily service-oriented economy.

     Different people may have very different understanding and expectation of the term "SWH". In handling this important subject with far-reaching implications, we must look fully into the background and implications of different policy objectives, and impartially and comprehensively consider the arguments for and against. I very much hope that the discussion will in the end shed light on the optimal future policy direction and facilitate the Administration in mapping out the way ahead.

     I would like to thank my colleagues in the Labour Department for their efforts in conducting the study which has been completed. The study covers three parts. First is the study of the systems and experience of 12 different economies in regulating working hours. Second is the statistics on the latest working hours situation of the working population in various sectors of Hong Kong. Third is the broadbrush, static and notional assessment of the possible cost impact of introducing SWH in Hong Kong. I must stress that the economic assessment is no more than indicative and for general reference purposes. It must not be taken to reflect the real situation.

     The Labour Department has this afternoon reported the major findings of the policy study to the Labour Advisory Board. The full study report has also been uploaded to the Department's website for public reference. In a moment, my colleagues will give you a powerpoint presentation on the major content of the policy study.

     To see what lessons we could learn, we have set out in the study report the implementation experience of the working hours regimes of 12 selected places in view of their relative similarities to Hong Kong in the level of economic development, or social and cultural background. We have also identified a number of key issues that need to be discussed in depth among employees, employers and the community at large in exploring the way forward. For example, what is the objective of working hours policy? What is the most appropriate and effective form of working hours policy? How could we cater for the unique mode of operation of different industries, with particular regard to the interests of the small and medium enterprises which account for well over 90 per cent of the companies in Hong Kong? We need to ensure that the policy fits Hong Kong's unique socio-economic circumstances on the one hand, and balances the interests of employers and employees as well as broader social concerns on the other.

     After reading the report, I believe all of you will understand that SWH is a highly complex and controversial subject, which impacts on a much wider spectrum of employees than those covered by the statutory minimum wage. It also involves a host of interrelated social, economic, and work culture issues.

     I would like to emphasise that the Administration keeps an open mind on whether we should eventually legislate for SWH. We have no pre-conceived idea on the way ahead.

     Legislating for SWH would have far-reaching consequences on the economy, society, competitiveness and employment. It would bring substantial changes to the existing labour relations, labour market, work culture and business environment. It is thus imperative that the whole community should deliberate these issues thoroughly before reaching a view on this important subject.

     The Chief Executive (CE) has pledged in his election manifesto to set up a Special Committee comprising government officials, representatives of employers and employees, academics and community leaders, to follow up on the policy study. Such a composition would ensure that the Special Committee works in an objective, holistic and balanced manner and ensure that the views and concerns on SWH's impact on the overall economy, labour market, small and medium enterprises and people's livelihood would be properly and fully reflected. The CE has entrusted me with the task of forming the Special Committee. I will take prompt steps to form the Special Committee and draw up its terms of reference. The Special Committee will provide an appropriate platform for in-depth public discussion on the complex principles and technical issues, and promote public understanding of the subject matter and facilitate an informed discussion in the community. I expect the Special Committee to be up and running by the first quarter of next year.

     Now let me invite Mr Nicholas Chan, Assistant Commissioner for Labour, to brief you on the study findings. After that, my colleagues and I will be happy to take questions from the floor.

Ends/Monday, November 26, 2012
Issued at HKT 19:23


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