Labour Issues

Chamber Submissions


The 5-Day Work Week

The Hon Donald Tsang Yam-kuen,
Chief Executive
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Government House
Hong Kong

Dear Donald,

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce notes your decision to move Government to a five-day work week. We support this move in principle, but while we do not object to Government restructuring working hours, there are several issues related to public services that need to be addressed. Attached is a brief paper outlining our views on those issues that we believe Government should consider before making detailed implementation plans.

On the question of business following Government's lead, we firmly believe that this is a decision best left to individual companies.

Best regards,

David Eldon


The 5-Day Work Week

The government announced in January that it will study moving toward a 5-day work- week, and that it hopes the private sector will follow the government's lead. Subsequent comments to Legco indicate that this plan is moving ahead.

In principle we generally support government instituting a reduced workweek, provided certain precautions and caveats are observed. Primary among these are that current service levels provided by the SAR Government, for which they are admired, are maintained; that services currently available to the public outside normal business hours remain available; that additional costs are not incurred and savings are realized; and that the private sector remains free to determine its own workweek policies according to each company's needs and competitive position.

We understand that the main arguments in favour of a 5-day workweek are that it supports a better quality of life (family and leisure time). Further, an additional half-day off each week in terms of benefit to Government employees, may have some marginal effect on consumer spending. While it is difficult to measure the exact impact, one would need to take into account a possibly greater tendency to travel outside the SAR for short trips, particularly during periods just prior to or after Monday or Friday statutory holidays.

We are aware, of course, that the impact of introducing this new measure, especially for the business community were they to do so, becomes especially serious when one notes that Hong Kong enjoys a large number of public holidays (17) as compared to other major financial centres such as London (8), New York City (10), Shanghai (10), Singapore (12) and Tokyo (15).

In a highly competitive and globalized business environment, Hong Kong cannot afford to let public service standards slip. We have great faith that the overwhelming majority of our civil servants will conduct themselves professionally and strive to complete their current work assignments within the 5-day framework. There are undoubtedly many functions that can be done just as well in less time.

Nevertheless, government should recognize – and take steps to minimize – the impact on business and the public. In particular, where departments have commitments to completing specific assignments or approval processes within a certain number of “working days”, we would very strongly urge that the day count include all days currently considered to be “working days”. This will be very important to monitor, and so we believe it might be useful for each department to review its 5-day week experiences in six or twelve months time.

In addition to maintaining standards, we strongly believe government services to the public should continue to be available when the public requires them. Naturally, we expect exemptions will be made for front-line disciplined services and emergency social welfare and counselling facilities. We would also recommend that staggered working hours are introduced for those government facilities that offer direct services to business and the public. This will ensure that there is no direct loss to business arising out of the 5-day workweek initiative, and no inconvenience to the public. In particular, we believe immigration, licensing and registry agencies, the post office and various public and SME-oriented services should continue to be available to the public at convenient hours.

The employment of additional staff, to ensure that the above-mentioned services were continued as before, would cause cost concerns. In this regard, we note a common thread in changes to the workweek elsewhere in the world: that more people will have to be hired, reducing unemployment and possibly raising wages. In the context of a strictly public sector work week adjustment – and acknowledging hat there may be some small savings in utilities charges through the adoption of a reduced work week – extra employments would be an additional and undesirable burden on the public purse.

As business people, we firmly believe that each organization is best suited to determine its own needs, and that government need not involve itself in a freely negotiated employment agreement between labour and management. While we anticipate increased pressure on companies to follow the government's lead on reducing the workweek, and some may choose to do so, we do not believe that it is appropriate to legislate to that effect.

Rather, we strongly oppose any legislation to force businesses to adopt a five-day work week. This decision is best left to each company as circumstances of productivity vary greatly. Furthermore, there is just not a good understanding of the socio-economic impact of a large number of Hong Kong employees not working on Saturdays, including the border-crossing infrastructure and the true impact on consumption within the SAR.

Finally, we also note, for your reference, the experiences in Singapore and Malaysia, as below.

Singapore put many government departments on a 5-day workweek from September 2004, and did so without legislation. Among the key issues considered was the provision of service outside the traditional work period. It also initiated a 5-day school week in January 2005, but provided guidelines to schools about best practices and cautioned that students were not to be given extra assignments, either during the workweek or on the weekends.

The decision was not an easy one, as evidenced by an official comment from an officer in the Prime Minister's office some 10 months before the 5-day work week was implemented:

“To have government offices operating on a 5-day work week or being closed on alternate Saturdays will affect the level of service to the public. This is not acceptable. It will also send the wrong signal that it is all right for organisations throughout the economy to be in business for less days in the week.”

Press reports indicate people in Singapore are actually working longer hours than before, to ensure that work previously done on a Saturday morning is finished by the end of business on Friday. One survey of 30 companies found that the hospitality industry, in particular, was struggling to balance company needs with employee expectations, following the government's decision.

Malaysian banks eliminated Saturday hours in many branches in February 2006, hoping to encourage more online banking. Banks plan to keep their branches open for the same number of hours per week by operating longer on weekdays. The biggest impact appears to be on the clearing system:

Under the directive of the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), announced on July 12 2005, all banks are required to adopt the 5-Day Clearing Week (5DCW) system, effective from May 15 2006. This is in line with practices in leading financial centres like the US, UK, Switzerland, Germany and Australia where there are no payment clearing facilities on Saturdays.

Asian countries that do not have Saturday clearing include Thailand, China and Indonesia. This is also in-line with the move towards a 5-day work week among many companies in Singapore.

In practice, 5DCW means that there will be no crediting or debiting of customer accounts with cheques, GIRO or Interbank funds transfers on Saturdays; clearing will be from Mondays to Fridays only.

To ensure continued service, DBS is offering customers in-house GIRO and standing instructions on Saturdays. This means that transfers from one DBS/POSB account to another can still be carried out, even on Saturdays.

Press reports indicate that consumer groups find the change inconvenient.

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