LCQ21: Promoting active ageing for the elderly

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):

Question :

     The Government has all along been taking forward the policy of promoting a sense of worthiness among the elderly, under which the elderly are encouraged to draw on their expertise to serve society.  However, quite a number of elderly persons have relayed that there are still inadequacies in the Government's promotion of the policy.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the details and effectiveness of the Government's efforts to help the elderly grasp the knowledge of using information and communication technology (ICT) (e.g. the Internet and smartphones); whether it has compiled statistics on the number of elderly persons who know how to use the Internet; whether it will allocate more resources to help the elderly grasp the knowledge of using ICT; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) of the number of elderly participants in the "Elder Academy Scheme", jointly launched by the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Elderly Commission, in each year since its implementation in 2007; whether it has assessed the effectiveness of the Scheme; if it has, of the details, and whether it will further promote the Scheme; if it will; of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) of the current policies to encourage employers to employ "the silver-haired group", with a view to allowing the elderly to return to the job market to give full play to their expertise; of the details and effectiveness of the existing retraining programmes implemented for preparing the elderly to return to the job market;

(4) of the current number of parks across the territory that are installed with fitness facilities suitable for the elderly, and the ratio of this number to the elderly population; whether it will allocate additional resources to install more fitness facilities for the elderly in various parks; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(5) given that the Steering Committee on Population Policy has confirmed to follow up issues relating to the advocacy of longer working years for the overall working population, and to examine whether the various existing systems and regulations may pose any obstacle to the labour force's engagement in longer working years, of the progress of such work?

Reply :

     In view of an ageing population, the Government has been stepping up efforts in recent years to promote active ageing. My reply to the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat's question is set out below:

(1) According to information provided by the Census and Statistics Department, the use of Internet among elderly persons aged 65 or above increased significantly from 3.0 per cent in 2004 to 35.9 per cent in 2015.  The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) launched two rounds of "ICT Outreach Programmes for the Elderly" in 2014 and 2015, under which visits were paid to institutionalised elderly persons, "hidden" elderly persons and those elderly persons receiving day care or home care services to teach them how to use tablet computers so as to stimulate their interests in information and communications technology. These two rounds of programmes benefited more than 2 900 elderly persons. In addition, OGCIO launched the "Funding Scheme for Digital Inclusion Mobile Apps" (the Funding Scheme) since 2012 whereby funding support was provided to non-governmental organisations to develop mobile apps to address the needs of various target groups, including those of the elderly persons.  In the past three years, the Funding Scheme funded three mobile apps for the elderly persons, with about 21 000 downloads in total (as at May 2016).

     Meanwhile, the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) and the Elderly Commission (EC) continue to proactively implement the Elder Academy (EA) Scheme, under which computer courses, smartphone application courses, tablet computer application courses, etc. are offered to elderly persons.  LWB also provides funding to the Women's Commission for organising the "Capacity Building Mileage Programme" (the Programme). The Programme, which is popular among the elderly persons, offers a wide range of learning courses including "Learning Computers for Fun" and "Internet Surfing".  Apart from the above courses, the Social Welfare Department has implemented the "Improvement Programme of Elderly Centres" to enable the 237 elderly centres joining this programme to procure more advanced equipment or facilities including, among others, computers.

(2) Implemented since early 2007, the EA Scheme (the Scheme) encourages the setting up of EAs in primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions through the collaboration of school sponsoring bodies and welfare organisations providing elderly services to enable elderly persons to pursue life-long learning.  Subsequently, the Government allocated by two phases a total of $60 million to the Elder Academy Development Foundation (EADF) for the continued development of the Scheme.  The Committee on EADF (the Committee) was established under EC in 2009 to devise strategies and measures relating to the set-up, curriculum design, extra-curricular activities and development of EAs, etc.  Hitherto, a total of 132 EAs have been set up in primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions. These EAs altogether provide more than 10 000 learning places each year.  

     The Committee conducts review on the Scheme at suitable intervals.  The latest one was conducted in 2013.  It showed that the Scheme had achieved its objective of encouraging elderly persons to pursue active ageing through life-long learning. Following the review, a series of enhancements, including the strengthening of recognition of credit and better coordination among different EAs within the same clusters and drawing up of a "Protocol for setting up an Elder Academy" etc. were implemented. A total of 25 new EAs have been established since the implementation of the enhancements in 2014. The Committee will continue to promote the Scheme.

(3) Similar to persons of other age groups, mature persons may enrol in courses provided by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB). The ERB courses straddle 28 industry categories and include generic skills training to meet the career aspirations, interests and training needs of different people. ERB completed a "Study on the Training Needs of Mature Persons" earlier this year.  Based on the findings of the study, ERB will develop training and support services to cater for the needs of mature persons.  These will include a series of "workplace re-entry" courses aimed at restoring self-confidence, enhancing communications skills and personal attributes; and boosting knowledge on computer applications and vocational English of trainees to prepare them to re-enter the labour market. ERB also promotes the employment of mature persons through the provision of support and related services.  To this end, ERB organises the "Workplace Re-entry" activity series, "Workshops on Enhancing the Awareness towards Mature Persons" and "Recruitment Sharing Sessions". ERB, in conjunction with enterprises, offers "Work Experience Days" for mature persons.

     The Government has been adopting a multi-pronged strategy to provide employment services for mature persons, promote their employment among employers and facilitate enterprises to build a friendly working environment for mature persons.  

     The Labour Department (LD) holds job fairs at suitable intervals to facilitate employment of mature job seekers. District-based job fairs on part-time employment are also staged at the job centres to meet the needs of some mature persons who are more interested in taking up part-time jobs.  LD's Employment Programme for the Middle-aged, which offers employers an on-the-job training allowance of up to $3,000 per month, has been extended to cover part-time jobs since September 2015 so as to encourage employers to provide more part-time jobs for people aged 40 or above.

     To encourage employers to engage mature persons, LD regularly organises experience sharing sessions on employment of mature persons and invites representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers to brief employers on matters relating to the taking out of employees' compensation insurance policies for mature persons. Furthermore, LD has all along been encouraging employers, having regard to the individual circumstances of their enterprises, to adopt friendly employment practices for mature persons and extend the working life of their employees so that mature persons can continue to stay in employment.  Employers may also adopt more flexible modes of employment for mature persons with a view to establishing working conditions and environment suitable for attracting mature persons to retain in or return to employment.

     LD promotes the message of fostering a friendly working environment for mature persons into the community through various channels and organising a wide range of educational and promotional activities.  Employers are encouraged to adopt friendly employment practices for mature persons in the workplace. Such activities include staging territory-wide roving exhibitions in various districts throughout the territory, publishing newspaper feature articles and a series of news supplements on enterprises sharing their successful experiences in actively engaging mature persons, widely distributing publications, organising thematic seminar, placing advertisements in the public transport network and periodicals of major employers' associations, broadcasting Announcements in the Public Interest through both television and radio, as well as disseminating relevant message through regular meetings and exchanges with business executives and human resources managers.

(4) To meet the needs of the elderly persons for fitness equipment, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) provides about 2 280 sets of fitness equipment including the Rider, Tai Chi Wheels, Pull-down Machine, Twister and Stepper, Ring Walk, Upper Back Stretch, Calf Stretch, Climbing Shoulder Stretch, Back Stretch and Push-ups, Bicycle Stepper, Up and Down Station, etc. in over 440 outdoor leisure venues (such as parks and playgrounds) for the enjoyment of the elderly persons.  While the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines do not set out standards for the provision of fitness equipment for the elderly persons based on the ratio of equipment to the elderly population, LCSD provides fitness equipment for the elderly persons in its venues having regard to factors such as users' needs in various districts, venue sizes and the views of the District Councils concerned (please refer to Annex for the distribution of equipment). In line with the initiatives to develop Hong Kong into an age-friendly city and promote active ageing as announced in the 2016 Policy Address, LCSD will provide about 150 sets of new fitness equipment for the elderly persons in the outdoor leisure venues in the 18 districts.  The installation works of the equipment are expected to be completed in 2017-18.

(5) Regarding the extension of working life, the Government has set an example through a range of specific measures.  As far as the civil service is concerned, the Government has adopted a package of flexible initiatives for extending the service of civil servants. These include raising the retirement age of new recruits joining the civil service on or after June 1, 2015 to 65 for civilian grades and 60 for disciplined services grades.  For serving civil servants, the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) has introduced the Post-retirement Service Contract Scheme, under which bureaux/departments may employ retired and retiring civil servants on contract terms to undertake ad hoc, time-limited, seasonal or part-time tasks that require specific civil service expertise/experience.  In addition, CSB has revised the arrangements for final extension of service of civil servants upon reaching retirement age, including raising the maximum extension period to 120 days and suitably relaxing the approval criteria.  As regards further employment of a longer period, following consultation with the management and staff sides on a draft implementation framework, CSB is drafting the detailed implementation guidelines on the basis of the implementation framework with a view to finalising the relevant arrangements as soon as possible.

     Other bureaux have also implemented measures to encourage public and subvented bodies to follow the Government's practice in extending employees¡¦ working life.  For example, the Prince Philip Dental Hospital has raised the retirement age of all new employees appointed on or after July 1, 2015 to 65. The Hospital Authority (HA) has adopted a higher retirement age of 65 for new recruits with employment commencing on or after June 1, 2015. In addition, HA has implemented special re-employment scheme to re-hire suitable serving clinical doctors, nurses, allied health and care-related supporting grades staff upon their retirement or completion of contract at the normal retirement age of 60 in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

     The Hong Kong Housing Authority has adopted 65 as the retirement age for contract staff employed on or after September 1, 2015.  For those employed before September 1, 2015, they may apply for extension of service beyond the normal retirement age of 60.  After consulting the stakeholders in the education sector, the Education Bureau is studying how to formulate the relevant policy and implementation plan with an aim to extend the retirement age for newly recruited civil servants to the aided school teachers so as to meet the manpower needs of the education sector.

     Furthermore, with the Legislative Council's approval on revising the Criteria for Issuing the Security Personnel Permit, the Security and Guarding Services Industry Authority has relaxed the upper age limit of Category B Security Personnel from 65 to 70. The relevant amendments took effect on December 18, 2015.  Since then, over 8 000 applications have been approved.

Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:10