Founded in 1947 just after the end of the Second World War, the Federation traces its origins to the early days of Hong Kong’s spectacular post-war growth. In these difficult times for employee relations, a group of major employers, all members of the General Chamber of Commerce, decided they needed to set up a group to focus only on labour issues. At the time, the most appropriate legal entity to match the growing influence of labour groups was a Trade Union. Thus, in spinning off their group, the founders of the Employers’ Federation chose to make the new organisation a Trade Union.

In the early years, the Federation’s main role was to help its members learn to deal with growing trade union power. Hong Kong was not immune to the trends sweeping the rest of the industrialised world – and in particular Britain – where confrontation between employers and employees was growing. At that time it seemed to many business leaders that the prosperity of Hong Kong – even its future – was under serious threat from disruptive labour groups. By organising itself into functional groups of like industries, the thought was that companies with the same interests could meet regularly, discuss trends and counter possible threats collectively.

Prosperity brings stability

Inevitably though, as these fears proved less grounded, the Federation’s drive and energies reduced. In the years of headlong growth, with a business-led Government and a workforce eager for improved standards of living, labour relations were relatively tranquil. Successive colonial Policy Secretaries applied the phrase ‘positive non-intervention’ to most issues and apart from a few minor changes, labour laws remained informal and relaxed – the envy of employers in more restrictive jurisdictions.

During these years and into the early 1980′s, the Federation gradually became less relevant. Its meetings took place infrequently and tended to be ‘social gatherings for members’ as one member puts it today. Even then however, one issue on which members were increasingly strident was Civil Service Pay actually leading instead of following that of the private sector.

Changing emphasis

The Federation was better equipped than most other employers’ groups to take the lead in representing employers’ concern to Government, the Unions and the public. Over issues as diverse as Importation of Labour, the Mandatory Provident Fund, Maternity leave and Severance Pay, Collective Bargaining and Civil Service pay, the Federation has become the acknowledged representative and spokesperson for Hong Kong’s employers. It retains its close links with the Chamber of Commerce with considerable joint membership and a high level of consultation.

More important still, perhaps, we have consciously changed our position in society. We now try to keep a balanced view in advocating and promoting good employment practices. While we vigorously represent employers and our members on issues, we maintain an active dialogue with the Unions to better understand their position. We try to look more roundly at the Community as a whole and achieve our aims through discussion and co-operation rather than confrontation.


In the mid-1980′s an administrative crisis in the Federation’s offices forced a major re-think and the decision was taken to bring the Federation up to date, review its purpose and renew its vigour. “If we are serious, we must do this job properly. If not let’s close down” said the then Chairman. The core large companies, still at the heart of the Federation, donated a fighting fund. A professional Executive Director was appointed, new offices acquired and policies developed to reflect the changing environment. This proved a timely and far-sighted decision.

For, with the rapid creation of wealth at all levels in a more sophisticated society, a serious labour shortage and with the end in sight for colonial rule, conditions were ripe for changes to Hong Kong’s free and easy labour laws. During the 1990′s the Government came under increasing pressure to regulate employers further and could do little to resist that pressure. It passed a spate of laws affecting every aspect of employment that, while perhaps being overdue in the eyes of international labour experts, nonetheless drove up employers’ costs relentlessly.

Ready for the future

Much yet remains to be done and indeed, as society changes and evolves the Federation’s work is never finished. We are trying to broaden the membership base, for example, and we need also to develop a wider range of activities and services for members.

With the help of newly active members, hard-working committees and a dedicated skilled office, the Federation can look forward to building on its long and distinguished history serving the employers of Hong Kong and the Community.