Transcript of remarks by SLW on importation of labour and adjustment of social security allowances

     Following is the transcript of remarks by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, after attending an occupational safety carnival today (November 3):
Reporter: So what are the three points that the Government will consider for importing foreign workers?
Secretary for Labour and Welfare: The Government has no pre-conceived idea at all on labour importation. The population policy study pinpoints the challenge we are facing, probably is a dwindling labour force versus an ageing population. We have to really replenish our workforce. And one of the ways, of course, the key approach is to train and retrain local workforce and to really unleash the potential of the latent workforce in Hong Kong, particularly women, for example, ethnic minorities, the early retirees as well as the people with sort of problems finding jobs. We want to encourage them to really find jobs and join the labour market. But after all our efforts, there certainly will be a situation where certain industries still face labour shortage, particularly for example, construction, elderly homes and so on. I think we need to look at the whole problem objectively. As to the way forward, we have no pre-conceived option at the moment. But I think it's important to stimulate a public discussion on the way forward to build consensus. But whatever option we will put forward in the end, in terms of labour importation, we have to be based on three basic premises. First of all, it must not jeopardise the interest of local workers. It must not suppress local wages. It must not deprive local workers of job opportunities. That's very important. We want to create a win-win situation whereby the labour force will be replenished. We got to have enough productivity to keep Hong Kong's economy growing and in the process also create more jobs for everybody and also keep wages at a steadily, sort of upward level.
Reporter: On what grounds will the Government import foreign workers if none of the three points are working or what will happen?
Secretary for Labour and Welfare: Now what we are doing is we want really to explore a possibility, for example, of enhancing, streamlining the present mechanism under the Supplementary Labour Scheme administered by the Labour Department which has been working for a long time for the last 20 years. We want really to build on these systems and see whether there is room for enhancing, for streamlining. And the objective is of course to protect local interest first, local workers' interests first. And of course, if there is need for importation of labour, we will try to be more flexible, at the same time, having regard to local circumstances.
Reporter: And how can you ensure it's not going to interfere with the interests of local workers if importing foreign workers? It may, let's say, lower the monthly salaries.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare: For importation of labour, we will ensure that the foreign workers have to be paid a median wage, which means there is no cheap labour at all under the import of labour scheme. The other thing is of course we will have to ensure that the employers have to go through local recruitment processes, transparency, ensure that you do make an effort to recruit locally but after all the efforts, if it's proved to be totally fruitless, then we will allow you to make an application and then vet the application on its own merits.
Reporter: Some were saying that the increase of allowance is not feasible. What are your comments?
Secretary for Labour and Welfare: In fact, we will be raising the level of the standard rates for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), Old Age Allowance, Disability Allowance as well as the Old Age Living Allowance. For Old Age Living Allowance, it will be up at least by 3.4 per cent. For the others, CSSA, Old Age Allowance and Disability Allowance, they will be up by at least 3.7 per cent. We are still awaiting the final figures of October. So we will be going to the Finance Committee of Legislative Council in December to seek fundings. The new rates will come into effect from February 1 the next year. It is in keeping with the normal cycle of adjustment. There is concern about whether the 5.9 per cent increase in maximum rental allowance for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients living in private buildings, whether it is sufficient. We are aware of the challenges they are facing. That's why apart from this projected increase coming up next year, in fact, at the end of this month, we will, through the Community Care Fund, provide each of these recipients, if their rental payment is higher than the allowance, we will give, for the individual, a single tenant, it will be $2,000 one-off subsidy. For a household of two or above, it will be $4,000, a one-off payment for them. They don't have to apply for it because we have a record of their rent payments. We will deposit the money into their account. So we are doing what we can to really relieve their burden of periodic rental increase that they are facing.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Sunday, November 3, 2013
Issued at HKT 18:11