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From ‘free’ trade to ‘fair’ trade: protectionism and the regulation of industrial employment in colonial Hong Kong, 1958-62


  • David Clayton


The late 1960s was a ‘major watershed’ for the evolution of labour laws in Hong Kong because social disturbances during 1966 and 1967 caused a ‘crucial shift of establishment attitudes’. Employers, who were ‘severely jolted’ by the events, quickly accepted thereafter the need for ‘legislative reform’.1 Legal rights extended to workers before this watershed, but, because local bureaucrats had sought the consent of employers’ organisations before legislating, ‘labour legislation was slow to emerge and, when it did emerge, was often in an emasculated form’.2 In the pre-war period the state regulated industrial employment by women and children and policed ‘industrial safety’; and the Governor gained the power (never subsequently used) to set minimum wages.3 In 1959, an existing ordinance that regulated the hours of factory work undertaken by women and young persons was amended. 4 The maximum hours of industrial work by women was set at sixty per week (ten per day), and all women and young persons (aged between 14-16) gained the right to one rest day per week.5 From March 1962, industrial workers had the statutory right to six days paid holiday and twelve days paid sick leave each year. These entitlements were, however, limited in scope,6 and did not cover all industrial workers. Factories registered with the state and were subject to inspections, but small workshops did not register with, and were not regulated by, the state.7 By the end of the 1950s, statutory protections did not therefore extend to a large proportion of the industrial work force. From 1952-57 (a period for which estimates exist), factory employment grew by fifty per cent, from 100,000 to 150,000; employment in unregistered workshops, however, expanded by one hundred per cent, from 50,000 to 100,000.8

Suggested Citation

  • David Clayton, 2006. "From ‘free’ trade to ‘fair’ trade: protectionism and the regulation of industrial employment in colonial Hong Kong, 1958-62," Centre for Historical Economics and Related Research at York (CHERRY) Discussion Papers 06/02, CHERRY, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  • Handle: RePEc:yor:cherry:06/02

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