Following is the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr David Lan, in moving the second reading of the Family Status Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2000 in the Legislative Council today(Wednesday):
I move that the Family Status Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2000 be read a second time.
The Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO) was enacted on 26 June 1997. The Ordinance prohibits discrimination on the ground of family status in certain fields of activity, such as employment. Apart from their employees, it is common practice for some Hong Kong employers to extend certain employment fringe benefits, such as medical and dental benefits, to the spouse and children of their employees, even though this is not required by law. It has not been our intention that the FSDO will require employers to afford benefits to all immediate family members in the care of their employees if such benefits are granted. In fact, Part 2 of Schedule 2 to the Ordinance already provides for some exceptions in relation to housing, education, air-conditioning, passage or baggage benefits or allowances. However, we are aware that there is a body of legal opinion which considers that there is an alternative way of interpreting the Ordinance, namely, it is unlawful for an employer to restrict benefits to only some but not all immediate family members in the care of his employees. According to this interpretation, the list of exceptions in Schedule 2 is not sufficient to cover all situations in relation to the provision of benefits and allowances. In order to comply with the FSDO, the employer has two options. The first is that he can provide the benefits to all the immediate family members in the care of his employees. The second is that he may withdraw all the benefits currently offered in order to avoid infringing the FSDO. The first option will be very costly and therefore unlikely. The second option will mean the employees' family members will lose the existing benefits.
The Family Status Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2000 serves to remove any uncertainty in this area. Clause 2 of the Bill puts in place an exception which clarifies that it is not unlawful for a person to accord differential treatment in the way he affords any of the immediate family members in the care of his employees, contract workers or commission agents direct or indirect access to benefits, facilities or services. In other words, it is not unlawful under the FSDO for an employer to afford benefits only to one or more, but not all, immediate family members in the care of his employees. To put beyond doubt that it has never been our intention to require an employer to provide benefits to every immediate family member in the care of his employees, Clause 1(2) of the Bill provides that the amendments should be deemed to have come into operation when the FSDO took effect, that is, 21 November 1997.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that the Bill seeks to remove uncertainty over the interpretation of the FSDO in relation to the provision of benefits to immediate family members of the employees. It will not take away any legislative protection or benefits that are currently enjoyed by the employees themselves.
Madam President, with these remarks, I commend this Bill to Members be read a second time.
End/Wednesday, February 16, 2000