CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Contract work hours and other problems

The duty of heads of government is to harmonise sectoral interests with the requirements of justice in order that the common good may be attained in conjunction with the contribution of every citizen (The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 168-9).
 
But on working hours and the offset against the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) for severance pay, the government hurriedly launched two policies, which are neither fish, flesh nor fowl, as personal political aspirations were placed over people’s need.
 
Contract work hours are being proposed for people earning less than $11,000 a month, along with the number of work hours and compensation for overtime at no less than the regular rate.
 
Low-income earners only have two options in the job market—sign on or walk away. Without the constraint of standard work hours legislation, the length of a day in an employment contract can be manipulated to legitimise long hours.
 
But since a non-skilled worker’s median wage already exceeds $11,000, there is no guarantee of a balance between leisure and work for the labour force. So who do the contracts benefit?
 
Another policy which falls between two stools is the proposal to set a cut-off date for abolishing the MPF offset mechanism and reduce the formula for calculating severance pay.
 
This policy has not gained the consensus of both employers and employees, but was put forward despite voices of opposition. With the non-retroactive arrangement and the abolition of the offsetting of severance pay and long-service payment with MPF, the mechanism has weakened the security role played by the retirement fund.
 
In addition, the reduction of the formula for calculating severance payment and long service payment will immediately damage employees’ rights. In view of these, why did the outgoing government repeat the same mistake made by the MPF years ago by proposing a policy which will generate more problems in society?
 
These social policies will ultimately damage the well-being of future generations in Hong Kong. The functions of the family have been eroded by long working hours and a work-life balance in families can never be achieved.
 
By reducing the ratio for calculating severance and long service pay, and setting a cut-off date to abolish the offset mechanism, it is rubbing salt into the wounds of the poor. These laissez-faire market economics viewed low-income earners as disposable objects and, when human beings become commodities, human dignity is damaged. No matter how prosperous the economy may be, this serves as a warning that society is regressing and becoming dehumanised.
 
How to move forward? What social policies are needed? How can social consensus be reached among labour, employers, government and society? We hope that all walks of life, including those in power, will follow the call of their conscience, enhance dialogue, construct social trust and build a heaven on earth together.
 
But first of all, each one of us must start by fulfilling our own duties and obligations. Employees must do their best to fulfill their responsibilities. Employers should understand that private property rights are not sole and absolute.
 
Worldly things belong to all human beings. Those in power should cautiously utilise their power by concretely contributing to social wellbeing. SE