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LCQ5: Employment assistance to ex-mentally ill persons

     Following is a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Pan Pey-chyou in the Legislative Council today (May 20):


     I have learnt that as the Government has no specific policy on assisting ex-mentally ill persons in seeking employment, quite a number of ex-mentally ill persons have encountered difficulties in seeking jobs, and their remuneration is generally on the low side.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of ex-mentally ill persons currently employed by various government departments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under the Social Welfare Department and social enterprises;

(b) whether the Government has specified the staff salary, the manpower required and the ratio of ex-mentally ill persons among the staff in the outsourced cleaning service contracts awarded to NGOs and social enterprises; and

(c) given that the maximum level of disregarded earnings is applicable to all recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), whether the Government will consider raising the relevant level for CSSA recipients who are disabled persons (including ex-mentally ill persons), so as to encourage them to take up employment and integrate into the society more actively; if it will, when it will be implemented; if not, of the reasons for that?



     The Administration is fully committed to facilitating and promoting the employment of persons with disabilities (PWDs), including the ex-mentally ill.  Our policy objectives are to enhance the abilities of the PWDs, develop their talents and potential, and ensure that they have equal opportunity to participate in productive and gainful employment in the open market.  To this end, the Administration has provided a wide range of vocational rehabilitation services and employment services for PWDs, and introduced a host of initiatives to enhance their employment opportunities.  The Administration has already established and implemented the policy on employment of PWDs within the Government.  We also strive to encourage subvented organisations to formulate suitable policies and measures on employment of PWDs, having regard to their business nature and size of establishment; and to facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration among the business sector, local communities, government departments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in promoting the employment of PWDs, thereby supporting the self-reliance of PWDs and their full integration into the community.  These policies, measures and services are all applicable to ex-mentally ill persons.

     My reply to the different parts of the Hon Pan Pey-chyou's question is as follows:

(a) According to statistics from the Civil Service Bureau, as at March 2008 , the number of civil service employees with disabilities was 3 225, accounting for 2.1% of the total civil service strength.  Of these, 284 were ex-mentally ill persons, representing about 8.8% of the number of civil service employees with disabilities.  

     Furthermore, the Social Welfare Department has implemented the "Enhancing Employment of People with Disabilities through Small Enterprise" Project, under which seed money is granted to NGOs to support the establishment of small enterprises.  In order to create more employment opportunities for PWDs and ex-mentally ill persons, organisations receiving subsidies under this project are required to employ PWDs at a ratio of not less than 50% of their total number of employees.  As at April 2009, total subsidies of $30 million have been granted to NGOs for the establishment of 51 small enterprises.  The 44 organisations receiving subsidies have employed 347 PWDs, of whom 152 are ex-mentally ill persons,ie about 44% are ex-mentally ill persons.

     As regards government subvented social welfare organisations, the Labour and Welfare Bureau conducted a "tracking survey on the implementation of measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities by Government Subvented Organisations and Statutory Bodies" at end-2007.  Of the 172 social welfare organisations covered, 138 responded to the survey.  Amongst these respondents, 89 kept statistics on the number of employees with disabilities, but did not have a breakdown of the number of employees with past history of mental illness.  According to the relevant records, these 89 organisations employed a total of 565 PWDs, accounting for an average of about 2% of their total number of employees.

(b) According to the information from the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, with the objective of enhancing the employment opportunities of PWDs, the existing Government procurement system allows government departments to, in respect of jobs suitable for PWDs, procure services only from the rehabilitation NGOs and social enterprises under the rehabilitation NGOs.  All rehabilitation NGOs and social enterprises invited to bid for the services will employ PWDs or provide vocational rehabilitation services for PWDs through on-the-job training.  To provide flexibility to these organisations in manpower deployment to meet their operational needs, government departments concerned in general do not need to specify in the service contracts the manpower required and the percentage of their employees with disabilities, including the ex-mentally ill, except for service contracts of a larger scale where the minimum manpower requirement will be stipulated.

     As for staff salary, the Government has, since May 2004, required its service contractors to offer monthly wages or the equivalent wage rates for the non-skilled workers at an amount of not less than the level of the average monthly wages of the relevant industry/occupation as set out in the latest "Quarterly Report of Wage and Payroll Statistics" published by the Census and Statistics Department at the time when tenders or quotations are invited.  Such a requirement also applies to employees of the rehabilitation NGOs and social enterprises awarded with government cleansing contracts.  These organisations will also arrange jobs for their trainees receiving vocational rehabilitation services so as to provide them with on-the-job training, and grant a training allowance to the trainees.  As there is no employee-employer relationship between the trainees and the organisations, the wage requirement does not apply to these trainees.

(c) The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme provides a safety net for those who cannot support themselves financially.  It is designed to bring their income up to a prescribed level to meet their basic needs.  The disregarded earnings arrangements (the arrangements) under the CSSA Scheme aim to encourage recipients who can work, including ex-mentally ill persons, to find jobs and remain in employment.  Under the arrangements, a portion of the monthly earnings from employment will not be deducted from the recipients' CSSA entitlement.

     Although the arrangements provide financial incentives for CSSA recipients to work, more generous arrangements may render more people eligible for CSSA, and delay the exit of the CSSA recipients from the CSSA net.  We must strike a balance between the two.  In fact, the maximum level of monthly disregarded earnings was raised from $1,805 to $2,500 in June 2003.  On December 1, 2007, we also relaxed the eligibility criteria for disregarded earnings from being on CSSA for not less than three months to two months, and raised the no-deduction limit of monthly disregarded earnings from the first $600 to the first $800 of income.  As the Administration needs time to observe the effectiveness of the above measures, we have no plan to further relax the arrangements at this stage.

Ends/Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:09


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