Top Dailies Adopt Five-day Week, More to Follow...

Chong Hiu-yeung - General Secretary, Hong Kong Journalists Association

After the Hong Kong Journalists Association raised the banner for a five-day week at this year's May Day demonstration more newspapers have joined the growing band of “five day week employers'. Apple Daily and the Hong Kong Economic Times (HKET) began trial schemes in the summer. Ming Pao Daily News, long been notorious for long working hours, hopes to implement the five-day week from the beginning of next year.

Staffs at Apple Daily and the HKET previously had to work 11 days in the fortnight. Under the new arrangements, reporters from these newspapers have an extra 26 days off per year. Reporters applauded the new arrangements.

Ming Pao is still studying the feasibility of the five day week. A middle management staff frankly admitted: “Our target is to maintain the productivity…if we do not employ extra reporters, implementing five-day week means that the productivity will drop roughly 9% (from 5.5 Day Week to 5 Day Week). In theory we can compensate the loss by re-structuring. But can we do it successfully? Dropping of productivity sounds inevitable, but to what extent, I don’t know.”

Definitely there will be difficulties in implementing five-day week. And pioneer in chinese newspaper like Apple Daily may be a good reference.

Apple Daily Works Well

From mid June to late July, different sections of Apple Daily began implementing the five-day week. The spot news team set the ball rolling. The last section to be affected was the sport news staff. The Chief Editor, Cheng Ming-yan said that although they did not employ new reporters, everything went off smoothly, without encountering difficulties and the daily operation of the spot news team even improved.

Cheng explained that in the past, the handover of unfinished assignments usually took place at peak hour which often created confusion and mistakes. But now the daily shifts have been cut from four to three and the handover times have changed. He added that as the working hours of each shift have been extended, the spot news reporters can support photographers to take pictures and footages better.

The general city news desk was more fortunate because before the trial scheme was confirmed, the management had decided to employ three more reporters. The Deputy Chief Editor, Lam Man-chung said the three new reporters had already started work so their desk could cope with the challenges. He added that reporters would perform better if they had an extra day off.

Leo Cheng who is in charge of the photography team said each cameraman had to cover roughly an average of half or one additional event a day. No difficulties had emerged as yet. He said that for busy days like 1 July (anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China), off duty photographers would be asked to work but they would be compensated with another day off later.

For the smaller teams, the impact of the change is bigger. The political desk, for example, has only three reporters. Another small team is the middle management. One news editor said that most of them took the extra day off on Monday and Friday which makes the manpower that day a bit tight.

As The Journalist understands it, the employment contract of Apple Daily states that every reporter has to work nine hours a day; they can have three days off every fortnight, with an average of 49.5 working hours per week. Because the contracts were not modified, every reporter is required to work an extra hour per day in order to maintain the same number of working hours.

This policy has limited effect on most reporters because they have never worked less than ten hours per day. However for editors and supplement reporters, there is a significant change to their working hours. They need time to adjust.

For example, the working hours of editors were from 3:30pm to 12:30am under the previous arrangement. Now, their working day starts at 2:30pm.

In Apple Daily, the supplement reporters are sometimes required to edit. Now their workload has increased because fewer editors work each day.

Flexibility in their working environment and their freedom have also weakened. Previously reporters could go home once they finished their daily tasks. Now they have requested by the Human Resources Department to fill in the attendance sheet every day. That means they need to go back to the office even if they have already finished their assignment.

According to Cheng Ming-yan the five-day week is a new trend because ‘when newspaper A implements it, newspaper B will feel the pressure to do… but only newspapers with sizeable manpower can afford the five-day week. It is impossible for small newspapers to implement adopt this. He suggested that it should be considered and implemented carefully and gradually.

HKET: Partly Implemented

The HKET also carried out a trial scheme. A senior management member said that because they promised the owner that no extra resources would be involved some sections may not have the capacity to run the five-day week.

The Journalist understands that every reporter in HKET was required to sign an agreement form stating that they would have an extra day off every 14 days, with the additional off-day taken within a limited time frame and the extra day off cannot be reimbursed in money terms.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association hopes that more newspapers can launch similar trial schemes for the five-day week. Newspapers should employ more reporters to share the workload if resources are available. A five-day week will improve the welfare of reporters and the quality of news. This is the best way to serve readers.