Labour secretary says HK government study into role overwork and exhaustion play in sudden deaths will be released next year

11-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The findings of a government study looking into how physical exhaustion plays a role in sudden deaths at work will be available next year, Hong Kong’s labour chief revealed as he recognised the problems of long working hours in the city.

Writing in a blog post on Sunday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said his department had commissioned the Occupational Safety and Health Council to look at cases of city workers dying of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular diseases in the workplace, and explore any links between the deaths and work-induced physical exhaustion.

“Hongkongers generally work long hours, so physical exhaustion is a subject we should be concerned about,” Law wrote.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last month classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

 (South China Morning Post)

(South China Morning Post)

Critics have branded the government’s move long overdue and called for an urgent update of the statute book to strengthen workers’ rights and safety protections.

A department spokesman said the three-year study was commissioned in 2017 and would be concluded by the end of next year.

He added that the Council had interviewed the family members, former employers and colleagues of deceased workers by questionnaire to gather information about their health, work performance and lifestyle for analysis.

According to the WHO, burnout could be characterised as feeling drained of energy, feeling negative about one’s job and becoming less productive at work. But Law said physical exhaustion was only one of the many factors causing burnout.

“On average, more than 100 workers die of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular diseases at work each year in Hong Kong; the problem of physical exhaustion is really common among city workers,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a former lawmaker and veteran labour rights campaigner.

Lee argued that the scope of the study should be widened to include psychosomatic syndromes such as burnout and suicide cases triggered by work fatigue and stress. He also demanded immediate action by the government to legislate for statutory rest time at work, a five-day work week, and maximum working hours.

“Whenever we push for policy changes, the government responds by launching yet another time-consuming study that never gets implemented. We need to see real action by this government on basic workers’ rights,” said Lee.

Siu Sin-man, acting chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, said Hong Kong lagged far behind other Asian societies like Taiwan and Japan and did not even have a legal definition of death caused by physical exhaustion.

She recalled a case involving a cross-border private chauffeur who suffered a stroke and became paralysed on one side of the body while eating from a lunchbox in his car at Hong Kong airport as he waited to pick up a client. He had worked 14 to 15 hours a day, six days a week with no holidays, while making just HK$18,000 (US$2,300) a month. He got no compensation for the work injury he suffered.

“The department of labour told him there was very little chance of him getting compensated. This is why we need changes in the law to protect basic workers’ rights because physical exhaustion is practically a universal truth in the city, and can be felt by every worker.”



Category: Hong Kong

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