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Transcript of remarks at press conference on population policy public engagement exercise

     The Chief Secretary for Administration and the Chairman of the Steering Committee on Population Policy, Mrs Carrie Lam, held a press conference today (October 24) to launch the Public Engagement Exercise on Population Policy. Mrs Lam was joined by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung; the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok; the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim; and the Director (Special Duties), Chief Secretary for Administration's Office, Mr Patrick Nip. Following is the transcript of remarks by the Chief Secretary for Administration and Chairman of the Steering Committee on Population Policy and the Secretary for Labour and Welfare at the press conference:

Reporter: Mrs Lam, can I first ask about your ideas about importing labour? We obviously see there is already a demonstration today from the Federation of Trade Unions against the imports of foreign workers. How exactly can you ensure that local people's rights will not be affected when you actually import these foreigners? And secondly, can you just explain and elaborate a bit about how you can encourage people to give birth? What sort of areas or ideas, say in terms of subsidies or how to foster a better working environment, that you can do to encourage people to give more birth, or how you can attract domestic women to come back out to help the workforce? Thank you.

Chief Secretary for Administration and Chairman of the Steering Committee on Population Policy: Well, thank you for the two questions. Maybe I'll invite Matthew to elaborate later on on the first question. My immediate response is, yes, we are very aware of the sensitivity of the subject of importation of labour. We are not suggesting that we should throw away the current conditions or the current controls over the importation of labour, but the facts and statistics in front of us indicate very obviously that we are short of labour in certain sectors. So I refer to these 77,900 vacancies which need to be filled in order to continue to sustain Hong Kong's economic development. But, at the same time, if you look at the Supplementary Labour Scheme, which is the source of providing this sort of labour, we have only approved 2,400. So this obviously suggests that there is room for improving the effectiveness of the Supplementary Labour Scheme, of course hopefully in consultation with the labour unions and members of the Labour Advisory Board. I think, at the end of the day, we need statistics, figures and inputs from the various employers in their respective sectors in order to demonstrate the strong need for some importation of labour in order to sustain Hong Kong's economy, in order to enable that Hong Kong will continue to provide the needed jobs and the needed wage levels to meet the local needs of our local labour.

     The second question, as I said, we have an open mind on what sorts of measures any government should do in order to encourage childbirth. In this particular respect we have looked at practices in overseas countries, including Singapore and some of the Nordic countries and so on. By and large, they revolve around subsidies, cash subsidies of various forms; tax incentives of various forms; and also services, just like better child-care services, better medical services in terms of those couples who need assistance and in reproductive technology. But at the same time, I need to put down a rider that similar feedback from those countries indicates that they may not be very effective, because at the end of the day this is a personal choice which is affected by a host of other factors. But I do feel that this is an area worth some exploration together with the community.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare: I simply want to emphasise the point that in considering a more effective labour importation system, our bottom line is quite clear that we must not jeopardise the interest of local workers. In other words, the interest of local workers will come first. No local job displacement in the first place. No suppression of wages, this is not our objective. Our objective is really to replenish, supplement labour force to enable the economy to grow and in the process, in fact, create more jobs and win-win-win situation for all. So, we will certainly consult the labour unions, the Labour Advisory Board and all stakeholders concerned in the process. And we are talking about a broad consensus, we hope to build up this consensus in the next four months during the public consultation, draw public views on the way forward.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Thursday, October 24, 2013
Issued at HKT 21:57


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