LU study: 60% of youths not paid for working overtime Scholars urge government to overhaul working hours policy

15 Oct 2022

According to a survey jointly conducted by Lingnan University (LU) Institute of Policy Studies, the Centre for Cultural Research and Development, and Oxfam Hong Kong on the employment status of Hong Kong youth, the average weekly working hours of Hong Kong youth range from 43.11 to 46.67 hours. Some interviewees work up to 60 hours per week, significantly more than the international average of 40 hours per week. In addition, 60 per cent of young people reported that their employers did not compensate them for working overtime, while only 30 per cent reported that their employers provided an allowance or compensatory time off. Excessive working hours have caused severe physical and mental burdens on Hong Kong's youth, and Lingnan scholars have urged the government to conduct a comprehensive review of the working hour policy.


The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is held annually on October 17. The research team at Lingnan University is concerned about the employment and poverty situation of young people in Hong Kong; consequently, they used in-depth interviews and questionnaires to reach out to young people aged between 18 and 29 with work experience from May to October of this year. A total of 36 youths were interviewed in-depth, and 164 valid questionnaires were successfully collected.


According to the results of the survey, Hong Kong youths work an average of 43.11 hours per week, whereas those who participated in the in-depth interviews work an average of 46.67 hours per week, far exceeding the international standard of 40 hours per week. Nearly 80 per cent of interviewees reported that their daily work hours were specified verbally or in writing. Nevertheless, nearly half of them reported that the actual working hours were not set. In addition, nearly 60 per cent of the young people surveyed reported that their employers did not offer overtime work subsidies, and only 30 per cent reported that their employers would offer overtime work subsidies or compensatory time off .


Many respondents have unstable jobs for an extended period of time, such as working as slashers, part-timers, and freelancers. They rarely sign contracts with their employers, let alone specify working hours, and the work culture of various industries causes them to work long periods of overtime.


The in-depth interviews reveal that nearly half of respondents work more than 45 hours per week, while some participants even work nearly 60 hours per week. They all claim that long work hours and insufficient rest have led to deteriorated health, such as strained muscles and difficulty concentrating. They are, therefore, more prone to workplace accidents. In addition, long working hours make it easier for respondents to engage in health-damaging behaviours, such as smoking, irregular meals, less exercise, and sleep deprivation, which also negatively impact their health in the long run.


The survey, according to Prof Pun Ngai, Head and Chair Professor of the Department of Cultural Studies at LU, revealed that young people in Hong Kong have precarious jobs, no employment contracts, long working hours, and low wages. The majority of respondents stated that their jobs provide no rest period from morning to night and no overtime pay. “Hong Kong should catch up with the international standard in legislating standard working hours as we are obviously lagging behind our neighboring countries and cities. If the youth holds the future of society, we should explore ways to properly deal with the employment problem they are facing,” said Prof Pun.


The research team, according to Professor Pun, urges the government to conduct a comprehensive review of the working hour policy and related labour policies, and to set the standard of working hours policy at eight hours per day and forty hours per week. Overtime compensation should be 1.5 times the standard hourly rate. Breaks and mealtime should be compensated during working hours. In addition, in order to protect workers in precarious jobs, the government should use standard working hours as a baseline but allow some industries to hire project-based employees to manage flexible working hours. The government should work closely with different industries to promote the prevention of occupational diseases and encourage the implementation of rest measures. The government should adopt the definition of karoshi and include labour protection and compensation in its legislation.


Prof Leung Shi-chi, Assistant Professor (Research) at the Department of Cultural Studies at LU, asserted that the employment instability of young people is closely related to their physical and mental health, as well as their future expectations. Many of the young people who participated in the in-depth interviews reported that, after deducting their living expenses, they do not have enough savings to purchase a home or plan for the future. To meet the needs of young people in Hong Kong, he suggested that the government and the business sector should examine what has been done in other countries, such as raising the minimum wage and supporting policies for living costs.