LC: Speech by SLW in moving the Second Reading of the Occupational Deafness (Compensation)(Amendment) Bill 2009

     Following is the speech (English translation) by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in moving the Second Reading of the Occupational Deafness (Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2009 in the Legislative Council meeting today (June 3):


     I move the Second Reading of the Occupational Deafness (Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2009 (the Bill).

     The main objective of this Bill is to adjust the overall rate and proportions of distribution of the Employees' Compensation Insurance Levy (the Levy) and to improve the Occupational Deafness Compensation Scheme (ODC Scheme).

     At present, for every Employees' Compensation Insurance (ECI) policy, employers are required to pay a levy at the rate of 6.3% on the premium of that policy to the Employees' Compensation Insurance Levies Management Board (ECILMB).  The Levy so collected will then be distributed to three statutory bodies, namely, the Occupational Deafness Compensation Board (ODCB), the Employees Compensation Assistance Fund Board (ECAFB) and the Occupational Safety and Health Council, in accordance with the proportions stipulated under the law. The Levy is the main source of income of these statutory bodies.

     Among these three statutory bodies, the financial situation of ECAFB has been tight in the past few years. It is necessary to increase the rate of distribution of the Levy to ECAFB to ensure its long-term financial viability and its ability to perform various statutory functions. On the other hand, the ODCB has over the years accumulated a healthy reserve. The number of applications for compensation and the amount of compensation paid each year have more or less stabilised. It has continuously been operating with a surplus. In view of the financial positions of these two statutory bodies, we suggest that the rate of the Levy for distribution to ECAFB be increased from 2.5% to 3.1% and that of the ODCB be reduced from 1.8% to 0.7%.  By effecting these adjustments, the overall Levy rate can be reduced from 6.3% to 5.8%.

     The ODC Scheme was set up under the Occupational Deafness Compensation Ordinance to provide compensation for employees who suffer from noise-induced deafness by reason of employment. At present, the ODC Scheme provides compensation to employees with sensorineural hearing loss of at least 40 dB in both ears. Moreover, these employees are entitled to reimbursement of expenses relating to the hearing assistive devices (HADs) up to a specified amount. Upon reviewing the financial position of the ODCB and taking into account the views of relevant groups, it is proposed that the following improvement measures should be introduced to the ODC Scheme:-

     (i) extending the coverage of compensation to employees who have developed noise induced deafness in only one ear because of their employment;
     (ii) increasing the maximum reimbursable amount for the expenses incurred relating to HADs from $18,000 to $36,000; and
     (iii) providing further compensation for employees whose hearing loss deteriorates as a result of continued employment in noisy occupations.
     The proposed amendments, if implemented, would enable the relevant statutory bodies to maintain their financial viability and to perform their statutory functions.  Employers will benefit from a reduction of the overall Levy rate when taking out ECI policies.  With improvements made to the ODC Scheme, benefits for employees with occupational deafness will also be improved.  Although the three proposed improvement items to the ODC Scheme will increase the annual expenditure of the ODCB, given its accumulated fund and the proposed Levy rate of 0.7%, the ODCB should be able to absorb the additional expenditure comfortably.

     President, both employers and employees would stand to benefit from the proposed amendments. The ODCB and ECAFB supported the proposals. The Labour Advisory Board and the Legislative Council Panel on Manpower also agreed to the proposals. I hope that Honourable Members would support the Bill so that it can be passed early for the benefit of employees.  

     Thank you. President.

Ends/Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Issued at HKT 16:44