Go to main content
LCQ7: Provision of interpretation services and public services for the ethnic minorities
     Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
     Regarding the provision of interpretation services and public services for the ethnic minorities (EMs), will the Government inform this Council:
(1)  whether it knows the number of interpreters currently hired by (i) the Hospital Authority (HA) and (ii) subvented organisations commissioned by the Government to provide interpretation services; if it does, of a breakdown by name of organisation; whether it has assessed if such organisations have sufficient manpower to provide interpretation services (including telephone interpretation and on-site interpretation); if it has assessed and the outcome is in the negative, whether the authorities will consider allocating additional resources to such organisations, with a view to enabling them to provide more expeditious and appropriate interpretation services;
(2)  whether it knows the respective current situations of telephone interpretation service and on-site interpretation service provided for EMs by public hospitals and clinics under HA, government departments and public organisations (including the Integrated Family Service Centres and the Social Security Field Units under the Social Welfare Department);
(3)  for how long EMs currently have to wait in general before they are provided with telephone interpretation service and on-site interpretation service respectively; if such information is not available, of the reasons for that; whether the various government departments will consider including in their performance pledges the maximum waiting times for telephone interpretation service and on-site interpretation service; if they will, of the implementation plan; if not, the reasons for that;
(4)  given that the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) has formulated the Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality (the Guidelines) to provide guidance for various bureaux, government departments and public organisations with a view to providing equal opportunities for EMs to access public services, quite a number of EMs have relayed that when they requested government departments to provide them interpretation services in order to use public services, they were repeatedly turned down by the departments concerned for various reasons, of the criteria currently adopted by the authorities for determining whether a government department has to provide telephone interpretation service for EMs;
(5)  as CMAB reviewed the operation of the Guidelines in 2014 during which various bureaux, government departments and public organisations gave a positive response to the implementation of the Guidelines, and a number of them indicated that they had put in place new measures to assist EMs, whether the authorities will upload the review report onto government websites for public access in the light of public concern about the operation of the Guidelines; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(6)  given that quite a number of EMs living below the poverty line are unable to complete application forms because they do not understand Chinese and English, rendering them unable to benefit from the various poverty alleviation measures provided by the Government for the needy, whether the six support service centres for EMs and two sub-centres currently provide any service to assist EMs in completing application forms; if not, whether the authorities will include the provision of such service in awarding new contracts for service centres; if they will, of the implementation plan; if not, the reasons for that; and
(7)  given that some EMs have relayed that their unemployment problem is serious and that the Labour Department has set up the Selective Placement Division dedicated to providing free employment placement and recruitment services for persons with disabilities and their prospective employers, whether the authorities will set up a similar employment services division for EMs?
     After consulting the relevant responsible departments, the consolidated reply to the question raised is as follows: 
(1), (2) and (3)  Various government bureaux and departments (B/Ds) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have been providing services to meet the needs of the ethnic minorities (EMs) under their respective policy areas, with a view to helping them integrate into society.  The B/Ds concerned will provide suitable assistance to EM service users according to these users' practical needs, including interpretation services, thereby ensuring their equal access to public services.
     The Home Affairs Department (HAD) has commissioned the Hong Kong Christian Service to run the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents (CHEER).  The services provided by CHEER also cover general interpretation and translation services, including telephone interpretation and enquiry services, on-site interpretation and written translation services.  At present, there are 15 EMs working in CHEER responsible for providing a variety of key services, including interpretation and translation services.  Telephone interpretation and enquiry services may be provided instantaneously, but on-site interpretation service is only available by appointment.  The services provided by CHEER have been operating smoothly and there is currently no plan to increase its manpower.  
     The use of CHEER's telephone interpretation and enquiry service and on-site interpretation service in the past five years are as follows:
 Year Telephone Interpretation and Enquiry Service On-site Interpretation Service
Total no. of usage No. of usage by B/Ds and public organisations Total no. of usage No. of usage by B/Ds and public organisations
2011-2012 3 304 384 462 343
2012-2013 3 369 380 515 463
2013-2014 2 872 366 497 415
2014-2015 2 667 365 621 601
2015-2016 3 206 618 701 664

     As CHEER is one of the interpretation and translation service providers that B/Ds and public organisations could choose to engage, the above figures do not represent the total amount of interpretation services provided to the EMs.  If Government departments need to procure outside interpretation services, they may do so in accordance with the Stores and Procurement Regulations based on their practical requirements.
     Interpretation and translation services in specialised areas do not fall within the service scope of CHEER.  As different B/Ds and public organisations may have different requirements on the interpretation and translation services to be provided, they may engage appropriate service providers directly to assist the EM service users depending on the practical situations. 
     Interpretation services covering 18 EM languages are provided for in public hospitals and clinics under the Hospital Authority (HA) primarily through a service contractor, the HKSKH Lady MacLehose Centre (the Centre), part-time court interpreters and relevant consulates.  At present, the Centre employs more than 70 interpreters who have all received training in medical-related knowledge as well as communication skills. 
     Moreover, the HA has also formulated guidelines for its staff on the procedures of arranging interpretation services.  HA staff will arrange on-site or telephone interpretation services according to the needs of each case or at the request of patients.  To ensure the quality of the interpretation service, the HA also pays close attention to the users' comments and feedback.  According to previous questionnaire surveys conducted by the HA, users are generally very satisfied with the interpretation services provided in hospitals and clinics.
     Regarding the service units of the Social Welfare Department (SWD), they will arrange interpretation services, including on-site and telephone interpretation services, in EM languages (e.g. Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, Nepali, Punjabi, Tagalog, Thai and Urdu) for those in need, and the operation has generally been smooth so far.  In August 2016, SWD issued a "Points-to-note for providing welfare services for EMs" (Points-to-note) to its service units (including Integrated Family Service Centres and Social Security Field Units) as reference in providing services to the EMs.  The Points-to-note contains information on the cultural and living habits of the EMs and how to arrange suitable interpretation and translation services, etc.  It also reminds the staff to make known to the EMs their right to receive interpretation and translation services.  A notice on "Assistance and interpretation services for ethnic minorities" in EM languages is also included in the Points-to-note for display at the reception of SWD's centres to inform visiting EMs of the channels to acquire social welfare services and interpretation services.
(4) and (5)  Relevant B/Ds and public authorities are responsible for, within their respective policy and programme areas, the implementation of the Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality (the Guidelines) issued by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) in 2010.  They are also required to draw up checklists of measures that would assist in promoting racial equality and equal access to key public services to enhance the transparency of their work.  The relevant departments will draw up and issue updates on the contents of the checklists according to their respective programme areas and where necessary.  The checklists contain contact information of relevant departments and have been uploaded onto the CMAB website.
     The scope of application of the Guidelines covered 14 departments in 2010 and has now been extended to cover 23 (note).  The Government will keep the scope, coverage and implementation of the Guidelines under review as appropriate, and share among departments effective measures to facilitate experience sharing and enhance the effectiveness of the Guidelines.
(6)  The HAD has commissioned non-profit-making organisations to operate six support services centres and two sub-centres for EMs to provide services such as conversation classes, induction programmes and mutual aid groups, etc. to facilitate EMs' integration into the community.  The centres also help government departments promote to EMs public services and allowances by, for example, holding briefing sessions on newly introduced social services and setting up temporary consultation counters in the centres, etc.  If necessary, staff of the centres also provides translation services for EMs and assist them in contacting the relevant departments for enquiries.  However, as personal data of the applicant and his/her family members are usually required in the application for public services and allowances, the HAD considers it inappropriate for the staff of the centres to complete application forms for the applicants.  As a result, the centres do not provide this service, and the HAD does not have any plan to include such service in future contracts.
(7)  The Labour Department (LD) has been providing dedicated services to cater for the employment needs of EMs.  It operates 13 job centres across the territory to facilitate the use of employment services by job seekers (including EMs) living in various districts.  All job centres provide dedicated employment services such as special counters, resource corners and employment briefings for EM job seekers.  LD has also made arrangements with non-governmental organisations to provide simultaneous interpretation services for EM job seekers who speak neither Chinese nor English. 
     Furthermore, in order to strengthen the employment services for EMs, LD has implemented the Employment Services Ambassador (ESA) Programme for EMs since September 2014.  Trainees of the Youth Employment and Training Programme who can communicate in EM languages are engaged as ESAs to help EM job seekers make use of various job search facilities and services at job centres, industry-based recruitment centres and job fairs.  EM job seekers may also meet employment officers at job centres to receive personalised employment advisory service.  Employment officers familiar with local employment market and proficient in English will provide EM job seekers with job search advice and employment information on the basis of their individual needs and preferences, and match them to suitable jobs.  In tandem, LD has been making continuous efforts to canvass and disseminate vacancies suitable for EMs and organise inclusive job fairs to enhance their employment opportunities.

     LD will continue to provide dedicated employment services suited to the needs of EM job seekers in different districts through the existing network of job centres, which offer comprehensive services with the support of EM ESAs.

Note: The 23 bureaux and departments and public authorities are the Education Bureau, Social Welfare Department, Labour Department, Home Affairs Department, Employees Retraining Board, Vocational Training Council, Food and Health Bureau, Department of Health, Hospital Authority, Construction Industry Council, Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, Innovation and Technology Commission, Office of the Communications Authority, Housing Department, Hong Kong Observatory, Post Office, Legal Aid Department, Hong Kong Police Force, Correctional Services Department, Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department, Fire Services Department and Registration and Electoral Office.
Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:49
Today's Press Releases