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LCQ19: Wage arrears of Asia Television Limited

     Following is a question by Hon Tang Ka-piu and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 17):


     Asia Television Limited (ATV) has repeatedly defaulted on payments of employees' wages since September 2014. Recently, a number of ATV employees were again owed their wages for December last year and last month.  As the validity period of ATV's domestic free television programme service licence (TV licence) will end on April 1 this year, those employees are worried that ATV will close down at any time, and the wages owed to them will then be irrecoverable. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of complaints received by the Labour Department (LD) since October 2014 about ATV's defaulting on wage payments or failure to make Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contributions, the total number of employees and the total amount of money involved in such complaints, as well as the respective numbers of such complaints which were subsequently withdrawn and referred to the Labour Tribunal (LT); the average processing time for those complaints which LD has completed handling;

(2) of the number of cases in which ATV employees lodged claims at LT since October 2014 to recover outstanding wages; among such cases, of the respective numbers of those cases (i) ruled in favour of ATV, (ii) ruled against ATV, (iii) in which the employer and employees concerned reached out-of-court settlements, and (iv) in which the employees concerned withdrew their claims; the number of cases in which fines were imposed by the court on ATV for defaulting on wage payments and the total amount of money involved;

(3) whether LD has set up a dedicated team to deal with and follow up on the issue of ATV defaulting on wage payments; if LD has, of the operation details of the team since its establishment, including (i) the number of complaints the team has received, (ii) the number of complaints into which the team has initiated an investigation, and (iii) the respective numbers of serving and departed employees to whom the team has rendered assistance; whether the authorities have monitored if ATV has made MPF contributions for its employees on a regular basis; if they have, of the details;  

(4) of the number of times, since October 2014, for which LD has deployed staff to ATV to investigate the situation of ATV employees having been defaulted on wage payments, and the assistance provided for the employees concerned;

(5) whether it knows the details of the assets currently owned by ATV; whether it has monitored the transfer and sale of assets by ATV; if it has, of the government department(s) responsible for and details of the relevant work;

(6) whether it has assessed the possibility of ATV failing to provide broadcasting services in accordance with the conditions of the TV licence or prematurely discontinuing its broadcasting services due to financial difficulties; if it has assessed, of the outcome; whether it has formulated any contingency plan and set aside manpower to assist hundreds of ATV employees in recovering outstanding wages and seeking employment in the event of premature discontinuation of broadcasting services by ATV; and

(7) whether it will encourage other companies issued with TV licences as well as Radio Television Hong Kong to employ serving and departed ATV employees; if it will, of the details?


     The Government is highly concerned about the suspected breaches of legislation and licensing requirement by Asia Television Limited (ATV) and will continue to closely monitor development. The Labour Department (LD) will continue to render assistance in employee's rights and employment services to these employees in need, and will continue to investigate and gather evidence. If there is sufficient evidence that the employer or management has wilfully and without reasonable excuse withhold payment of wages and employees are willing to serve as prosecution witnesses, LD will initiate prosecution.

     My reply to the question raised by Hon Tang Ka-piu is set out below:

(1) Since October 2014 up to February 5, 2016, LD received claims from 153 ATV employees claiming for about $16.22 million. The claims of 51 employees were settled through LD's assistance while the claims of the remaining 102 employees were referred to the Labour Tribunal (LT) or the Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board (MECAB) for adjudication. Generally speaking, LD can hold a conciliation meeting for employers and employees within five weeks from the employees' lodging of a claim.

(2) Since October 2014, claims of 102 employees were referred to LT or MECAB for adjudication. Among them, 45 claimants obtained an award in their favour or reached settlement with the employer, 12 claimants did not file their claims, seven claimants withdrew their claims while the claims of the remaining 38 claimants are being processed.

     LD laid a total of 204 summonses in four batches against ATV for late payment of wages. Of these summonses, 102 were laid against ATV for wilfully and without reasonable excuse failing to pay wages to its employees within the statutory time limit as stipulated in the Employment Ordinance (EO) and the remaining 102 were against its director for his consent, connivance or neglect in the wage offences committed by the company. ATV pleaded guilty to all 102 summonses and was fined a total of $1,070,000. The director concerned was convicted of 100 summonses after a full trial and was fined a total of $150,000.

(3) LD has all along been greatly concerned about the default of wage payment and has been following it closely. Actions taken include: maintaining contact with ATV's management and urging it to pay wages on time; sending staff to the headquarters of ATV to inspect and investigate wage payment by the employer; setting up two dedicated hotlines for ATV employees for enquiries on employment rights and protection and for employment; organising briefings for ATV employees to brief them on their statutory rights and benefits under EO as well as the employment services provided by LD; and assisting ATV employees to pursue their wage claims and go through the necessary legal procedures. As mentioned in part 1 above, since October 2014, LD has provided assistance as appropriate to 153 ATV employees who had lodged wage claims against the employer.

     In the course of assisting those ATV employees in pursuing their wage claims, some employees indicated their willingness to act as prosecution witnesses. LD has promptly followed up all cases and criminal investigation is carried out. Since some of the cases are still under investigation, it is inappropriate for LD to disclose details.

     In addition, the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority (MPFA) has been closely monitoring ATV's payment of Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contribution, and has been taking proactive action to follow up on the default contribution. In accordance with the relevant legislation, civil claims or criminal prosecution proceedings were instituted against ATV in respect of its default on payment of contribution and MPFA has successfully recovered from ATV outstanding MPF contribution amounting to around $4 million, covering the contribution periods from December 2014 to September 2015. Besides, criminal prosecution was initiated against ATV in respect of its default on payment of MPF contribution. On November 2, 2015, ATV was convicted of failing to comply with the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Ordinance and was fined a total of $14,000. As ATV still has not yet made MPF contribution for October 2015, MPFA has instituted civil proceedings at the District Court to recover the default contribution of about $700,000 from ATV. MPFA will continue to take proactive action to follow up on ATV's remaining default contribution for its employees.

(4) LD has all along been proactively following up the wage default of ATV. Between receipt of ATV employees' reporting of non-payment of wages in early October 2014 and February 2016, LD deployed staff to pay more than 40 visits to ATV's head office for workplace inspections, examining wage payment and employment records, interviewing employees and responsible persons of the company to detect wage offences and collect evidence for consideration of taking out prosecution.

(5) ATV is a private company and its assets information is not publicly available.

     In accordance with condition 25.2 of its domestic free television programme service licence, ATV shall submit to the Communications Authority (CA) not later than April 30 in each year or upon request by CA the latest annual audited accounts of ATV prepared by an auditor.  The deadline for ATV submitting its annual audited accounts in 2014 is April 30, 2015.

     CA has not yet received ATV's annual audited accounts in 2014 so far. CA has imposed sanctions on ATV for its repeated failure to submit its annual audited accounts.

(6) The Government is highly concerned about the defaulted payment of wages and the operation of ATV. As a licensee, ATV has the obligation to comply with relevant statutory and licence requirements. In view of the possible implications on ATV's services arising from its defaulted payment of wages, CA has, in accordance with the Broadcasting Ordinance (BO) and relevant licence requirements, repeatedly reminded ATV of the need to comply with the licence requirements. CA will also continue to closely monitor ATV's compliance with the provisions in BO and licence conditions that are applicable to ATV. If a licensee is in breach of a provision of BO and licence condition, depending on the severity and nature of the breach, CA will impose different levels of sanctions on the licensee concerned for the breach.

     The Government has established a task force, led by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and comprising representatives from relevant Government departments, to handle the transition issues arising from the non-renewal of ATV's free TV licence.

     LD will continue to strive to provide assistance to ATV staff and help them go through the related legal procedures, including lodging claims at LT or MECAB, obtaining court award on the claims and, in the case of employer's inability to pay the debt, applying for legal aid to take out winding up petition proceedings at court. In addition to the briefing for ATV staff in February 2016 to enhance their understanding of their employment rights and employment services, LD has set up two hotlines to answer their enquiries in these areas. To assist affected employees searching for new jobs, LD has set up special counters at its 13 Job Centres to provide priority registration and employment services for affected employees. LD has also been liaising with various broadcasting companies and canvassing relevant job vacancies, including posts related to production, engineering and sales, for application by the affected employees.

(7) Recruitment in Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) depends on its actual needs, and the recruitment process has to be carried out in accordance with the established procedures. To better assist the staff of ATV, RTHK has already provided the information of job vacancies in RTHK to LD for consolidated handling and dissemination.

Ends/Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:02


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