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Heavy fine for contractor in breach of Employment Ordinance

    Wai Hong Cleaning & Pest Control Co Ltd was fined $234,000 at the Kowloon City Magistrates' Courts today (October 18) for discriminating against trade union members and failing to grant rest days - offences under the Employment Ordinance. The prosecution was launched by the Labour Department.

     The company, which is a contractor of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), is responsible for cleaning services in Tsuen Wan. After receiving a complaint from the contractor's employees about participation in union activities and rest days, the Labour Department launched an immediate investigation.

     The contractor was found to have contravened the provision on anti-union discrimination and not granting rest days to four cleansing staff.  

     Commenting on the court's sentence over the company's offences, the Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said the judgement sent a positive message and showed that the Employment Ordinance provided suitable protection for employees taking part in trade union activities and on rest day arrangements.

     Under the Employment Ordinance, an employee employed under a continuous contract is entitled to at least one rest day in every seven-day period. Wai Hong Cleaning & Pest Control Co. Ltd. did not grant adequate rest days to the four employees. The contractor further varied the employment term to exclude rest days early last year.

     In addition, the four employees registered as members of a workers' union between November and December last year. They participated in union activities to various extents, including encouraging other co-workers to join the union, promoting union activities and assisting in the collection of information relating to breaches of the Employment Ordinance by the contractor.

     At the end of December last year, the four employees, together with other employees who worked under the same cleansing contract, lodged claims with the Labour Relations Division of the Labour Department with the assistance of the union. The employment contracts of the four employees were later terminated by the contractor.

     "We are very much concerned about government service contractors' compliance with the Employment Ordinance. Our labour inspectors conduct workplace inspections frequently to meet with workers and check their employment records in order to safeguard their rights and benefits," Mr Cheung said.

     "From January to September this year, labour inspectors conducted 601 inspections of these service contractors, representing an increase of 88% over the same period last year.

     "During the same period, the department prosecuted eight contractors and secured 55 convictions. The number of successful convictions has increased more than 17-fold when compared with three convictions for the entire 2004.

     "The Labour Department will continue to step up enforcement action and keep close contact with other procurement departments to protect the rights and benefits of non-skilled workers. We have strengthened the labour inspector team by increasing the members from 6 to 18," he said.

     Under the Employment Ordinance, every employee shall have the following rights:
- to be a member or an officer of a trade union registered under the Trade Unions Ordinance;
- to take part in activities of the trade union at any appropriate time, if the employee is a member or an officer of such trade union; and
- to associate with other persons for the purpose of forming or applying for the registration of a trade union.

     An employer shall not dismiss, prevent or deter, penalise or discriminate against an employee for exercising the above rights. Offenders are liable to prosecution and a maximum fine of $100,000 upon conviction.

     The Employment Ordinance also stipulates that any employer who fails to grant rest days is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 for each offence.

Ends/Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Issued at HKT 14:31


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