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LCQ4: Combating human trafficking and regulating employment agencies

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (May 4):


     The United States Department of State publishes a Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) every year to evaluate the human trafficking situations in various countries/areas.  The Report places the relevant countries/areas onto one of three tiers based on their governments' efforts in combating human trafficking, with "Tier 1" representing the highest ranking.  The TIP Report 2015 published in July last year placed Hong Kong on "Tier 2" again, and pointed out that Hong Kong was a destination, transit, and source territory for persons subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.  In particular, the Report stressed that there were exploitations of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in Hong Kong: some FDHs became victims of forced labour in the private homes in which they were employed (with FDHs having reported working 17-hour days); some employment agencies (EAs) (including FDH recruitment agencies) charged fees in excess of the maximum commission allowed under the law; and some FDHs who had been abused by their employers were unwilling to report abusive employers for fear of losing their jobs and being unable to repay their debts.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(1) of the new measures that have been put in place by the authorities so far, in response to the queries about Hong Kong raised in the aforesaid report; whether the authorities, in formulating measures to crack down on trafficking in persons, will set an objective of Hong Kong being placed on "Tier 1" by the aforesaid Report in future;

(2) given that the authorities have indicated that since April 2014, the Labour Department (LD) has increased manpower to step up inspection of EAs, with the annual number of inspections increasing from 1 300 in the past to 1 800 (representing a 38% increase), of the details about LD's manpower increase;

(3) of the total number of EAs and the number of inspections of EAs conducted by LD, in the past three years; whether the authorities will consider further boosting the manpower for coping with the increasing workload of inspection and number of related complaints; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(4) of the number of EAs which were prosecuted for contravention of the law, the offences involved, and the penalties imposed by the court on the convicted EAs in general, in the past five years?



     Having consulted the Security Bureau, our consolidated response to the Hon Emily Lau's question is set out below:

(1) The "US State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2015" acknowledges the Government's key anti-TIP achievements, but there exist certain descriptions which do not fully reflect the unfailing commitment and continuous efforts of the Government in the fight against TIP.  In particular, we disagree that Hong Kong is a destination, transit and source territory for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.

     The comprehensive legislative framework of Hong Kong has already fully underpinned the robust enforcement of our law enforcement agencies.  Through inter-departmental collaboration, the Government's efforts in tackling human trafficking include victim identification, enforcement and prosecution, victim protection and international co-operation. Hundreds of our law-enforcement officers are trained with specialised victim identification skills and TIP knowledge yearly.  The Police and the Immigration Department will also revise their victim identification guidelines to facilitate thorough investigation and to ensure that genuine victims are provided with appropriate assistance.

     The law enforcement agencies will take all trafficking reports seriously and maintain close liaison with foreign consulates and non-governmental organisations with a view to bringing to justice human trafficking criminals.

(2) to (4) The Employment Agencies Administration (EAA) of the Labour Department (LD) is responsible for enforcing Part XII of the Employment Ordinance (EO) (Cap. 57) and Employment Agency Regulations (EAR) (Cap. 57A).  It regulates the employment agencies (EAs) through conducting regular and surprise inspections, complaint investigations as well as instituting prosecutions against EAs which are suspected of breaching the laws.  EAA has strengthened its manpower in the past two financial years.  EAA had 8 and 11 staff of Labour Officer Grade respectively in 2014-15 and 2015-16, and will have four more staff of Labour Officer Grade in 2016-17 to step up the monitoring of EAs.

     To promote the professionalism and quality service of the EA industry, the Commissioner for Labour plans to promulgate a Code of Practice for EAs and will require EAs to follow the Code in operating their business.  LD is conducting a public consultation on the draft Code and will consider the views collected during the consultation period, refine the Code and then promulgate it for compliance by the EA industry. LD will review the manpower arrangements as appropriate to complement the enforcement of Part XII of EO, EAR and the Code.  In addition, LD will continue with its publicity and education efforts in raising the awareness of their respective rights and obligations of foreign domestic helpers, their employers and EAs.

     The numbers of EAs and inspections conducted in the past three years as well as the number of EAs convicted in the past five years and the details are set out at Annex.

Ends/Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:06


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