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Standard working hours

According to UBS’s Prices and Earnings Study Report, Hong Kong has the longest working hours out of 71 cities worldwide, with the average employee working up to 2,606 hours per year. 

The Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, in a recent survey on the impact of working hours on family and faith life, found that over a quarter of the 2,700 respondents from 19 parishes worked 52 hours or more every week, averaging out to 48.5 hours. This tallies closely to the overall state of working hours in Hong Kong. 

The findings showed that longer working hours had a greater negative burden with respondents rating the impact on work at 3.4 and on family at 3.1, with 5 being the highest on the scale. 

Recently, six labour representatives on the Standard Working Hours Committee announced they were quitting the committee. Furthermore, three LegCo members from the labour sector plan to boycott the committee’s second round of consultations. The Standard Working Hours Committee was set up in 2013 and over the past few years has failed to gather a consensus on standard weekly and maximum working hours. 

Worse, the committee proposed legislating contractual working hours mandating written employment contracts in which employers and employees specify mutually agreed upon weekly working hours and overtime compensation. 

Given the current situation in Hong Kong, where labour unions have limited power and collective negotiation rights have no legal protection, the majority of employers have the upper hand in formulating contractual stipulations. This equates to the rationalisation of overtime work since any refusal on the part of an employee to accept excessive working hours and other requirements may imply rejection of employment. 

Healthy long-term development relies on the beneficial development of each sector of society including the individual and the family. 

Everyone has 24 hours a day. When work encroaches on most of a person’s waking time, everything else is impacted including health. These trends in the social system and culture have resulted in family and spiritual life falling lower down in the order of priorities. 

When social policies are directed at a single financial objective at the expense of personal physical and mental health, and family life, it is certain that the direction of Hong Kong’s development is far from integral. 

Pope Benedict XVI, his 2009 social encyclical, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), wrote, “Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development.”

Today, May 1, is Labour Day. It is intended to mark the fight for “eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation and eight hours for rest” promoted by workers more than a century ago. Their advocacy has yet to be realised in today’s Hong Kong where, unfortunately, the situation has worsened. 

Indeed, social structures can greatly affect the freedom to respond to God’s call. If a person is always compelled to work overtime or excessively long hours with no checks-and-balances giving them the freedom to distribute their time between work and other commitments, then that person may not value the call to growth in family and spiritual life, or even choose to relinquish them. This should not be ignored. SE