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Much progress made in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


A United Nation Committee of experts will consider the HKSAR Government's report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) during a hearing to be held in Geneva this Friday (April 27) and next Monday (April 30).

A government delegation, led by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr W K LAM and comprising officials from Department of Justice and various policy bureaux, will attend the hearing and answer questions that the Committee may raise.

The ICESCR is one the six major human right treaties that apply to Hong Kong. It has done so since 1976.

In accordance with its obligations under the Covenant, the government has undertaken to take steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to achieve progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the treaty.

A government spokesman said: "The hearing is likely to focus on a list of 34 questions that the Committee put to us in writing last year and which we answered in March. They concern the implementation of the Covenant in Hong Kong and the progress made since November 1996, when the Committee last examined a report on Hong Kong." (The questions and replies are on the Home Affairs Bureau's homepage

The spokesman said much progress has been made and some of the legislative improvements that have been made in the last five years include:

* In the field of employment, remedies for unreasonable dismissal have been created, statutory entitlements, such as maternity leave benefits and protection, long service payment and payment of wages, have been improved and mandatory safety training has been introduced in several industries. Occupational safety and health requirements have been extended to all workplaces, the rights of trade unions and their members have been strengthened, the procedures for settling trade disputes have been improved;

* In relation to social security, significant progress has been made in respect of retirement protection, in the form of the new Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme. Improvements have also been made in respect of employees' sickness allowances, compensation for injuries at work, and occupational deafness;

* Under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme, many improvements have been introduced. For example, we have increased the standard monthly payments for elderly recipients in real terms with a view to encouraging them to continue to lead healthy and socially active lives after retirement. Single parents are provided with a monthly single parent supplement in recognition of the difficulties they face in raising their families without the support of a spouse. When necessary, they may also receive special grants to cover child care centre fees, school fees, and other educational expenses.

* Families and children have benefited from numerous amendments including greater flexibility in taking maternity leave and greater protection for pregnant employees, new remedies in respect of unpaid maintenance, a ban on unsuitable persons acting as childminders, and remedies for international child abduction;

* Needy tenants in public housing estates can now obtain rental concessions, and limits have been placed on the rate of increase in Housing Authority rent;

* The health of the community has received additional protection through the regulation of Chinese medicines, increased controls over air and marine pollution, further restrictions on cigarette smoking and advertising, and the enactment of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance; and

* Scientific progress, in the form of human reproductive technology, is being regulated in respect of commercial surrogacy arrangements. And the rights of authors of literary and artistic productions have been protected by the enactment of comprehensive local laws relating to copyright, patents, registered designs and trade marks.

The spokesman said although legislation is an important means of implementing rights under the Covenant, it is not the only means.

"In recent years, progress has been made in many areas through administrative measures adopted by the government, often with the assistance of non-government organisations."

He said that the account of progress does not indicate complacency on the part of the government.

"We are acutely aware that there are many vulnerable groups in our society who need help, and that many people are still suffering from the economic downturn. We must continue to find ways to raise the standard of living of the needy, to improve our education system, and to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor."

He said the government could not do that alone, and must work together with legislators and NGOs.

"The progress made in recent years is an indication of what can be achieved when all sectors of society pull together for the good of the community as a whole," he said.

End/Thursday, April 26, 2001


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