Only 610,000 workers will benefit from the Hong Kong government’s proposed rules for the city’s low-paid labor force who earn below HK$11,000 (US$1,411) a month.

The proposal also has excluded more than 300,000 foreign maids and drawn criticism for leaving out other employees.

The total labour force in Hong Kong for 2014 was 3.88 million, representing 61.1% of the total population aged 15 and over.

The government said the rules would be enacted in legislation in 2020.

Employers will be required to clearly state the number of working hours in employee contracts and must pay staff overtime if they work extra hours.

A Labor Department information officer said the rules would cover workers in the following areas: restaurants, construction sites, film, logistics, real estate management, print machinery, hotel and tourism, cement, retail, cleansing services and elderly homes. He said domestic workers would not be covered.

HK$11,000 threshold

In a joint statement, three lawmakers representing the Labor functional constituency and six members of the Standard Working Hours Committee said the HK$11,000 threshold was set too low, meaning many workers will not be covered, RTHK reported.

They also said employers could still manipulate the employment contracts to avoid paying for overtime.

The term of the committee, which was set up in April 2013, expired when it delivered its report in January this year.  

Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan welcomed the proposal, while Edward Leong Chehung, chairman of the Standard Working Hours Committee, said the proposal might not be perfect, but it certainly was a good start.

Leung Chun-ying’s promise

Progress on a standard working hours policy has been extremely slow, having taken five years since July 2012 to reach the proposal stage. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying promised in his election platform to push forward the legislation, but the committee was set up nearly year after he took office in July 2012.

In November 2012, the Labor Department report on a policy study on standard working hours was published, stating that 690,000 full-time workers in six sectors racked up 54.6 hours per week. This is around a 10-hour day if employees work a five-day week.

Australia, for example, brought in a 38-hour work week in 1981 and the standard in Singapore is 44 hours. 

The six sectors were retail, real estate management and security, restaurants, land transport, elderly homes, and laundry and dry cleaning services.

The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions had urged the government to include maids in the standard working hours legislation. It said they faced excessively long hours as their contracts did not stipulate maximum hours.

However, the Standard Working Hours Committee rejected the request and submitted a report to the government in January this year that excluded maids in the standard working hours legislation.  

The more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong come mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, with some from Thailand and Vietnam. None are covered in the proposed new rules.

Read: Domestic workers’ plight in the spotlight