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The first industrial employment ordinance in Hong Kong was enacted in 1922 to regulate the industrial employment of child labour. The Ordinance was applicable to factories employing more than 10 persons, mines, shipyards, construction and building, transport of goods or passengers. The legal minimum age for working in a factory was set at 10 years but children under 15 were barred from working in dangerous industries.

The Factory (Accidents) Ordinance 1927 (Ordinance No. 3 of 1927) was the first Ordinance to establish certain safety standards in the factory. Under the Ordinance, factories were required to install secured fencing against machineries, driving belts and mill gearing (including shaft, wheel, drum and pulley) and appliances driven by machines. The provision of door exits in factories and workshops was a must. Fireworks, glass and boiler chipping were listed as dangerous trades and child labour, women and young people were not allowed to work in these industries.

In 1929, the Industrial Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Amendment Ordinance, 1929 (Ordinance No.24 of 1929) was in place, which prohibited women and young workers (aged between 15 and 18 years) from doing dangerous work and night work. In 1932, the Employment of Young Persons and Children at Sea Ordinance, 1932 (Ordinance No.13 of 1932) barred children under 14 them from working on sea vessels. This Ordinance was introduced to comply with the International Labour Organisation Convention adopted in 1920. Under Article 421 of the Treaty of Versailles, Hong Kong had the obligation to adapt ILO Conventions into local legislation. In 1932, the Industrial Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Amendment Ordinance, 1929 and the Factory (Accidents) Ordinance, 1927 were combined into the Factories and Workshops Ordinance, 1932 (Ordinance No.27 of 1932). Most of the original stipulations were remained with only a few amendments, Subsequent amendments were made to this Ordinance: women were prohibited from working in underground mines; factories and workshops had to register annually with the Secretary for Chinese Affairs (the Protector of Labour); and more fire precaution measures were added.

The Factories and Workshops Ordinance, 1932 introduced more regulations on the safety precautions in the factory premises and building structure. However the government had difficulty enforcing standardized measures as factories were interspersed in various types of buildings. This was evident in the draft bill of the 1936 Ordinance when it delineated the intention of the new bill, “owing to the great variety in the nature of business operations carried on in the Colony and in the types of buildings used for industrial undertakings, it is virtually impossible for the Governor in Council to make regulations prescribing all the minors precautions appropriate in certain factories and workshops. The amendment of vesting the Protector of Labour with more discretionary power would enable more reasonable and desirable variations in the protection of factory safety.”

In 1937, the Factories and Workshops Ordinance, 1937 (Ordinance No.18 of 1937) transferred the office of Protector of Labour from the Secretary for Chinese Affairs to the Urban Council. For some years before Japanese Occupation, the Urban Council had the power and obligation to inspect factories and make by-laws and regulations.

Over the years in pre-war Hong Kong, the legal minimum age of labour in the manufacturing was raised from 10 years to 16 years old and the prohibited night hours for women and young people changed from after 9 p.m. to after 8 p.m. These amendments were intended to be consistent with the International Labour Convention passed in 1919.

Offenders were penalized if found not abiding by the law. In 1940, new amendment tightened the penalty making both the offender and the proprietor involved, even though the proprietor might not be the actual offender. Offenders were liable to a maximum fine of 250 dollars. Without knowledge or consent was not accepted as a defence against such alleged charge.

After the World War II, the Factories and Workshops Regulations (Cap. 59, section 5) was resumed. The post-war edition of Factories and Workshops Ordinance introduced a few significant changes to the 1940 edition. The power of the Chairman of the Urban Council was transferred to the new Commissioner of Labour. It imposed specific conditions when women were employed including the provision of sitting facilities, arrangement for work shifts (not to exceed 8 hours per shift), a maximum of 8 working hours per day and a half-hour break for every 4.5 hours of continuous work. Another change in this post-war edition was the increase in the amount of maximum fine from 250 dollars to 1,000 dollars.