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LCQ6: Supplementary Labour Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):


     Under the Supplementary Labour Scheme ("SLS"), local employers with genuine difficulties in recruiting suitable junior staff in Hong Kong may import workers at technician level or below after their applications have been approved by the Labour Advisory Board ("LAB"). In recent years, however, quite a number of companies have bypassed LAB and directly applied to the Immigration Department ("ImmD") for importing workers under the General Employment Policy or other admission schemes for talents and professionals by changing the post titles concerned and other means, thus affecting the employment opportunities of local workers. As the employee members of LAB consider that ImmD approves applications for importing workers indiscriminately, they have suspended vetting and approving applications under the SLS, resulting in a shortage of imported workers. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the 10 industries most affected by the suspension of vetting and approval of applications submitted under the SLS at present, as well as the percentage of imported workers in the total labour force in these industries;

(b) whether the authorities have obtained exact data on the number of cases in the past 12 months in which the applicants have bypassed LAB and submitted applications directly to ImmD for importing workers by changing the post titles concerned and other means, and thus affected the employment opportunities of local workers; and

(c) as it has been reported that the care industry is one of the industries affected by LAB's suspension of vetting and approval of applications submitted under the SLS, and members of the industry have indicated that such suspension has given rise to manpower shortage in the industry, whether the authorities have assessed the impact of the suspension of vetting and approval on the care industry and explored measures to resolve the situation; and what short-term and long-term measures are in place to solve the problem of manpower shortage in the care industry at present?


Acting president,

     The Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) is a labour importation scheme administered by the Labour Department (LD). Its objective is to facilitate, on a limited scale, the importation of workers at technician level or below, thereby enabling Hong Kong to meet its demand for low-skilled workers.

     It has always been the Government's policy to accord priority to local workers in terms of employment, and to safeguard their salaries and benefits. To this end, for each application under SLS, the employer has to first launch a four-week open recruitment exercise, for which the employer must offer wages at not less than the median monthly wages of local workers in comparable positions.  During the open recruitment exercise, LD will conduct proactive job matching for the vacancies. LD will also disseminate such vacancy information to training bodies and labour unions, inviting them to refer suitable local job-seekers for interview. Only if employers are genuinely unable to recruit the required workers locally will their SLS applications be considered. Each application under SLS has to be considered by the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) before the Government makes a final decision of either approval or refusal.

     Our replies to the question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi are as follows:

(a) Employee members of LAB announced on October 31, 2011 their decision to freeze the processing of SLS applications. Their action has directly affected a batch of 49 vacancies recommended for approval by LD. These vacancies involve the following seven job titles:

Job title            Quota of
                     imported worker(s)
                     recommended for approval

1. Care Worker           26
  (Elderly Service)

2. Livestock/ Poultry/   10
   Crops Farm Worker

3. Care Worker            4
   (Disabled Service)

4. General Sewing         4
   Machine Operator

5. Cook                   2

6. Fitter/                2
   Mechanical Fitter

7. Machine Operator       1

Total                     4

     For the first job title above, namely Care Worker (Elderly Service), information from the Social Welfare Department (SWD) shows that as at September 30, 2011, private residential care homes for the elderly in Hong Kong were hiring altogether 4 950 care workers, with 934 (or around 19%) of them being imported workers. For the remaining six job titles, we do not have statistics on the proportion of imported workers out of the overall labour force under the respective job titles.

(b) At present, the Immigration Department (ImmD) implements two employment-related immigration arrangements, namely, the General Employment Policy for admitting mainly overseas professionals and the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals for professionals from the Mainland.  The objective is to allow local employers to recruit professionals not readily available in Hong Kong to meet their manpower needs. Both arrangements are only applicable to professionals. The target group is materially different from the applicants of SLS under LD. In processing applications from professionals, ImmD will strike an appropriate balance between upholding priority employment of the local workforce as an important policy measure and admitting needed professionals to Hong Kong. In general, professionals seeking to apply to work in Hong Kong shall meet three main criteria:

(1) having a good education background, normally a first degree in the relevant field;

(2) having a confirmed offer of employment and are employed in a job relevant to their academic qualifications or working experience that cannot be readily taken up by local professionals; and

(3) the remuneration package is broadly commensurate with and not inferior to the local prevailing market level.

     Employers shall submit relevant information and documentary proof for the applications, including details of the positions concerned, remuneration package and the reasons why the positions cannot be filled by local professionals.

     Some applications for importing professionals had been refused by ImmD for failure to meet the eligibility criteria or withdrawn by applicants after gaining thorough understanding of the relevant requirements. However, there should not be any cases where applications were submitted to both LD and ImmD or submitted to ImmD directly to intentionally bypass the monitoring of LAB.  In any event, ImmD has undertaken to enhance communication with LD in processing relevant applications, and plans to require employers to declare whether any application was submitted under SLS to LD, regardless of the position applied for or its result, in the 18 months prior to applying for the importation of professionals. ImmD will seek advice from LD to prevent employers from submitting to ImmD unsuccessful application for the same position under SLS. Besides, ImmD will also seek advice from LD on any doubtful cases.

(c) Since employee members of LAB announced on October 31, 2011 their decision to suspend the processing of SLS applications, SWD has not found any non-compliance with the staffing requirement in residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) owing to failure to renew the contracts of Care Workers (Elderly Service) under SLS. SWD will closely monitor the development. If an RCHE is affected and has to adopt emergency measures, SWD will allow the RCHE to engage relief workers as an interim measure in order to maintain the service standard.

     Regarding the manpower of other employees in the care industry, there are at present 30 training institutions which have obtained approval from the Director of Social Welfare to organise training courses for health workers (HW). According to SWD, the total number of training places of HW training courses is about 2 000 each year. The training institutions will introduce training courses relevant to elderly care services and adjust the training capacity in response to the demand of the industry.  To alleviate the shortage of nurses in the welfare sector, SWD, in collaboration with the Hospital Authority, has been running a two-year full-time programme to train enrolled nurses particularly for the welfare sector since 2006. Nine classes have been organised so far and three more will be organised from now to 2013. Together, the 12 classes will provide about 1 500 training places.

     We will closely monitor the manpower supply and demand in the social welfare sector and implement facilitating measures as appropriate.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Issued at HKT 20:21


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