LCQ14: Sheltered workshops

     Following is a question by Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (June 20):


     Sheltered workshops for persons with disabilities provide vocational training for persons with disabilities, including those with intellectual disability, in an environment specially designed to accommodate the limitations arising from their disabilities, which aims at engaging persons with disabilities in work rewarded by a training allowance so that they can learn how to adapt to the general work requirements, develop their social skills and interpersonal relationship, and get prepared for potential advancement to supported or open employment in future wherever possible.  Sheltered workshops engage those persons with disabilities who have certain motivation and abilities to work to take up income-generating production process in a planned environment.  Some sheltered workshops offer simple and routine jobs, and workers can get a daily pay of $34 only and a monthly income of below $2,000 in general.  Regarding the difficulties faced by workers and operators of sheltered workshops, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that inflation in Hong Kong is high at present and workers of sheltered workshops are not even eligible for applying for the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme, whether the authorities will offer a new travel subsidy to such workers in order to encourage persons with disabilities to take up employment and alleviate the burden on their families; if they will, how the amount of such subsidy will be determined; if not, of the reasons for that;

(b) of the details and effectiveness of the support provided by the Marketing Consultancy Office (Rehabilitation) set up by the authorities for seeking job orders for sheltered workshops, which are awarded through open tender; whether they have assessed if the Office can provide assistance to individual workshops in resolving their problem of insufficient orders completely; whether the authorities have any other support measure to enable sheltered workshops to increase their orders; if they do, of the details; if not, whether the authorities will immediately consider introducing measures to support the business operation of sheltered workshops;

(c) as I have learnt that in some sheltered workshops, about one fifth of the workers are people recovering from mental illness, among the workers of sheltered workshops in Hong Kong at present, of the number of those who are people recovering from mental illness; given that some fellow social workers have relayed that those workers need professional assistance from other allied health staff, whether the authorities will enhance the manpower of allied health staff in sheltered workshops, such as nurses, occupational therapists and health workers, etc; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(d) as some fellow social workers have indicated that sheltered workshops are putting the cart before the horse in that they only emphasise production at present but have forgotten the aforesaid major function of providing vocational training for persons with disabilities, of the differences between the original and existing services provided by sheltered workshops in terms of direction and principle; and as some fellow social workers have also indicated that the authorities have set up sheltered workshops for years but have so far not conducted any review of their services which are very outdated, whether the authorities will review the services offered by sheltered workshops; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(e) as some fellow social workers have pointed out the serious ageing problem of sheltered workshops, and they hope that rehabilitation services in terms of their diversity, establishment and ancillary facilities can be re-engineered, and the manpower of allied health staff, such as occupational therapists and nurses, etc can be enhanced, whether the authorities will re-engineer these services; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Social Welfare Department (SWD) subsidises non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide sheltered workshop services to persons with disabilities who are not yet able to take up open employment because of their physical or mental limitations.  The aim of these services is to provide them with suitable vocational training in a specially designed work environment, in which they can learn to adjust to normal work requirements, develop social skills and relationships and prepare for potential advancement to supported and open employment.  My reply to the Hon Cheung Kwok-che's question is as follows:

(a) As the objectives of the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS) Scheme are to relieve the burden on travelling expenses commuting to and from work on the part of low-income households with employed members and promote sustained employment, applicants of the WITS Scheme must be currently employed or self-employed.  Sheltered workshop is a vocational rehabilitation service in which there is no employment relationship between the service providers (ie service operators) and the service users (ie participants with disabilities).  In other words, service users of sheltered workshops are neither employed nor self-employed and therefore not included in the WITS Scheme.  That notwithstanding, persons with disabilities who have financial difficulties can apply to SWD for financial assistance.

(b) The Marketing Consultancy Office (Rehabilitation) (Office) established by SWD aims to promote job and training opportunities for persons with disabilities through innovative, effective and efficient marketing strategies and business development.  Its specific roles include assisting NGOs in the setting up of social enterprises and small businesses under the "Enhancing Employment of People with Disabilities through Small Enterprise" Project (note), promoting the products produced and services provided by persons with disabilities, and assisting vocational rehabilitation service units operated by NGOs (including sheltered workshops) in securing job orders.  To this end, the Office visits vocational rehabilitation service units every year to get a fuller grasp of their operation and provide them with improvement recommendations in order to secure more job orders.  According to the Office, most of the service units are able to obtain sufficient job orders and in some categories of services, such as laundry service, demand has exceeded supply.  In tandem, the Government has all along been requesting bureaux and departments to encourage public bodies and government subvented organisations under their purview to take appropriate measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities, including priority procurement of services and products provided by rehabilitation organisations which employ persons with disabilities.

(c) According to SWD's statistics, about half of the service users of sheltered workshops are ex-mentally ill persons who meet the eligibility criteria for receiving sheltered workshop services.  For example, they have work motivation and basic self-care ability, and are mentally and emotionally stable, etc.  Social workers in the sheltered workshops will follow up the rehabilitation progress of every service user.  If a social worker considers that an individual service user needs other types of rehabilitation services such as healthcare service, occupational therapy and community support service, etc, suitable referrals will be made.

(d) and (e) As mentioned above, the service objectives of sheltered workshops are to help service users to learn to adjust to normal work requirements, develop social skills and relationships and prepare for potential advancement to supported and open employment.  To this end, SWD and organisations operating vocational rehabilitation services will, from time to time, review the mode of service operation having regard to the changing social environment to ensure that the services meet the needs of service users and society.

     For instance, SWD re-engineered the sheltered workshops and supported employment services into integrated vocational rehabilitation services centres (IVRSCs) in 2004 to provide persons with disabilities with one-stop integrated and seamless vocational rehabilitation services.  The job categories have also become more diversified and include simple processing, assembly, handicraft, desk-top publishing, laundry service, car-washing, office cleaning, delivery service, retail sales, leaflet distribution, etc.  Besides, in view of the ageing of service users, SWD has put in place a number of measures since 2005, including provision of the Work Extension Programme at sheltered workshops and IVRSCs to meet the needs of ageing service users or service users with deterioration of physical functioning.  These services include activities for sustaining work abilities, social and developmental programmes and caring activities for meeting the health and physical needs of trainees.  Furthermore, SWD has set up a task group at end-2011 to review the impact of ageing service users on the services (including sheltered workshop services) and make recommendations for improvement.  Members of the task group include relevant stakeholders (eg family members/carers of service users, NGOs, the medical sector, academics, etc).  The task group expects to complete the review within this year.

     SWD will continue to collaborate with the stakeholders and NGOs for continuous improvement of vocational rehabilitation services with a view to enhancing the employability of persons with disabilities and enabling them to secure open employment.

Note: Under the "Enhancing Employment of People with Disabilities through Small Enterprise" Project implemented by SWD, seed money is granted to NGOs for the setting up of small enterprises/businesses to create employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and to provide them with genuine employment in a carefully planned and sympathetic work environment.  The number of employees with disabilities in these small enterprises/businesses should not be less than 50% of the total number of employees.

Ends/Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:26