Following is the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr David Lan, in resuming the second reading debate of the Family Status Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2000 in the Legislative Council today (June 14):
I would like to thank Dr the Honourable Yeung Sum and Members of the Bills Committee for their hard work - their careful and efficient scrutiny of this Bill.
The Bill seeks to amend the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance to remove the uncertainty over the interpretation of the FSDO in relation to the provision of benefits to immediate family members of employees, contract workers or commission agents. Apart from their employees, contract workers or commission agents, it is a common practice for some employers and principals to extend certain employment fringe benefits to the spouse and children of their employees, contract workers or commission agents. However, we are aware that there is a body of legal opinion which considers that the Ordinance can be interpreted in such a way that makes it unlawful for an employer or principal to afford benefits to only some but not all relevant immediate family members of the employees, contract workers or commission agents. If the uncertainty is not removed at once, employers or principals wary of potential legal liabilities may withdraw benefits that they currently provide to these people out of goodwill, unless they are prepared to grant such benefits to all immediate family members concerned. This will result in these family members losing all the existing benefits. Also, to put beyond doubt that it has never been our intention under the Ordinance to require an employer or principal to provide benefits to every immediate family member in the care of his employees, contract workers or commission agents if such benefits are granted, the relevant amendments in the Bill will be deemed to have come into operation when the Ordinance took effect on 21 November 1997. Some Bills Committee Members have raised concerns about the retrospective effect of these amendments. We consider it necessary, otherwise the uncertainty in respect of former acts done before the enactment of the Bill will linger on and parties concerned might have to resort to court proceedings to clarify their positions. However, to preserve the rights of claimants who might have already instituted proceedings in respect of a former act before the Bill was approved for introduction into this Council, we propose that proceedings initiated before the date of ExCo's approval for the introduction of the Bill, that is, 1 February 2000, will not be affected. I am glad that the Bills Committee was generally in support of these arrangements.
During the Committee Stage, I shall move a number of Committee Stage Amendments (CSAs) to the Bill. First, in response to comments that the proposed scope of exceptions in clause 2 covering Parts III, IV and V of the Ordinance might be too wide, I shall move an amendment to clause 2, and propose new clauses 2A and 2B to limit the scope of the amendments to sections 8, 9 and 16 only. The new wording of these amendments will also address the concern that the proposed new section 39A in the original clause 2 of the Bill might lead to misunderstanding that benefits for employees, contract workers and commission agents themselves will also be affected by the Bill.
Second, to tie in with the amendments effected by clause 2 as amended and new clauses 2A and 2B, I shall also move an amendment to clause 3 so that instead of Part III, IV or V, it will refer to the relevant amended provisions under sections 8, 9 and 16 of the Ordinance.
Lastly, to address the concerns of some Members that the retrospective effect of the Bill might result in the reduction or alteration of existing benefits for such immediate family members, I shall propose adding two new clauses, clauses 4 and 5, to save existing rights and obligations under agreements and settlement agreements entered into before the enactment of the Bill respectively. Again, I am glad that the Bills Committee supports these CSAs.
Madam President, both employers and employees stand to benefit from the clarification on the lawfulness of affording the relevant immediate family members access to benefits, facilities and services under the Ordinance. I commend the Bill to this Council subject to the amendments that I shall move at the Committee Stage. Thank you.
End/Wednesday, June 14, 2000