“This is a breakthrough and a prudent starting point,” Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung pledged on Wednesday. Those are reportedly his words. The Government’s proposal this week would make it mandatory for bosses to pay workers overtime wages at rates no less than their salaries only if they make HK$11,000 or less a month.
How the mechanism works
In the employment contract, both parties would agree a number of working hours. If the employee puts in extra time above the agreed hours, bosses would have to offer overtime pay matching their regular wages. The problem? There is no statutory maximum weekly hours in Hong Kong.
How to avoid paying overtime
The easiest way to avoid paying OT would be to give a salary of HK$11,001 a month. But if the employer still insists on a lower salary, he can write in the contract that the employee must work 168 hours a week (there are only 168 hours in a week). Or simply hire two part-times for one full-time’s job. The math works out the same.
Then there are those who break the law…
Not entirely related, but I’ve known a case in another jurisdiction with statutory maximum weekly hours, where an employer would enter into a “sham” employment contract which complies with the law but the employee would not get the entire salary as stated in the contract. This was where there are statutory protections for employees.
At least in Hong Kong, employers have been keeping it real. They make no attempt to hide the fact that they are doing everything they can to maximise their profits, even at the expense of the well-being of their employees. Standardisation of working hours are not to be on the table any time soon. Anyway, if your salary is more than HK$11,000 a month, expect to work long hours.