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The government will standardize working hours once a statutory minimum wage is implemented in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Donald Tsang told the Legislative Council (LegCo) Thursday.
Regulation of working hours, Tsang noted, must consider factors such as employer-employee relations and the global competitiveness of Hong Kong. Therefore, the issue is complex and requires thorough research and discussion by the Labor Advisory Board. He said that the work of regulating hours under statute may still be ongoing by the time he completes his term of office in July, 2012.
Tsang made the pledge to legislate standardized working hours during a question and answer session, in response to unionist lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Ip Wai-ming.
Lee asserted long working hours is a serious problem in Hong Kong. He cited figures showing 1.2 million people work more than 50 hours a week. Another 680,000 work more than 60 hours weekly. He urged Tsang to provide a roadmap and a timetable for implementation of standard working hours in Hong Kong.
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Tsang acknowledged that long working hours make it hard for the working class to spend time with their families and impede lifelong learning. "This is a very complicated issue and you must give me respite after the minimum wage legislation," he said, adding, "ultimately, we must make law (for standard working hours)."
Separately, Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung said the government would study the implementation of standard working hours, borrowing on foreign experiences and best practices. A considerable amount of research must be carried out, he said, and standard working hours should take effect only after the statutory minimum wage has been in effect for some time.
Cheung also said the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission would soon recommend the initial minimum wage rate to the Chief Executive-in-Council. He believes it would be introduced into the LegCo for approval before the end of November.
As to the expansion of the Traffic Allowance Scheme, he said his bureau is working out details and he expects to present the scheme to the LegCo's Panel on Manpower by the end of the year.
Income and asset limits as well as other existing criteria will continue to apply to eligibility for the subsidy. He did not specify the number of people likely to benefit from the expanded scheme nor estimate the amount the program will cost the government.