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Speech by SLW at Duty of Care Conference 2017 (English only)
     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Stephen Sui, at Duty of Care Conference 2017 today (March 8):

Mr Ricky Wong (Vice-Chairman of the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong), Ms Cindy Cheng (China Representative of the International SOS Foundation), Mr Louis Pong (CEO of Employers' Federation of Hong Kong), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to kick-start this whole-day regional conference focusing on the highly important topic of duty of care. I am also deeply honoured to address this high-level audience comprising executives, experts and practitioners from the fields of human resources, legal affairs, occupational health and safety, risk management and security.

     Let me take this opportunity to thank the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong (the Federation) and the International SOS Foundation (the Foundation) for co-hosting this duty of care conference in Hong Kong and facilitating cross-sectoral dialogues on the issue. I am deeply honoured to have the privilege of officiating on this special occasion.

     "Duty of care" is the legal, moral and ethical obligations that organisations have to their people i.e. their employees, assignees and contractors. This responsibility not only encompasses working in the home country but extends to those working abroad. Organisations definitely have a responsibility to maintain the health, well-being, security and safety of their workforce. They must act prudently to avoid the risks of injury or exposures leading to ill health.

     Globalisation leads to increasing transnational business opportunities, more and more employees are required to travel away from their home base and work in different parts of the world. They are exposed to higher health, safety and security risk in an environment they are not familiar with. If employees' safety or health is at risk, it is not just the employees themselves who may suffer, the business will also be affected, and so will the company's goodwill.

     As American economist and former Chairman of the United States' Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke put it, "No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalisation and technical change." This does not only apply to a state economy or city economy, but also to corporates and organisations keen to keep abreast and stay competitive.

     Against this backdrop, people management has become more than just routine administrative affairs. Duty of care has become an integral part of robust people management strategies. Employers are encouraged to offer their employees benefits that are more favourable than the statutory requirements, to serve the best interests of their local and overseas employees having regard to the company's size, resources and culture. By adopting good people management practices and keenly observing duty of care, enterprises can build a positive image and draw diverse talents to form an energetic and dedicated workforce and hence lay a solid foundation for business growth.

     Hong Kong is no exception when it comes to our reliance on people talents. As a city with very little natural resources, Hong Kong's continuous success and long-term competitiveness depend on our people - our single most valuable asset. Besides offering attractive rewards, an important pull factor for drawing and retaining these talents is to provide an employee-friendly culture whereby all statutory labour rights are duly observed and issues related to duty of care are thoroughly considered and well taken care of.

     As the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, I am a strong believer in safeguarding statutory labour rights and ensuring the occupational safety of our workforce. In Hong Kong, not only do we promote a family-friendly working environment, but we also attach great importance to safety and health at work.

     Whether their employees are working in or outside Hong Kong, employers have an affirmative duty to ensure the safety and health of their workforce. This is reflected in the Employees' Compensation Ordinance (ECO), which provides that a work-related accident resulting in the injury or death of an employee is compensable even if the accident takes place outside Hong Kong. It is also a requirement under the ECO that an employer is not allowed to employ any employee unless an employees' compensation insurance policy is already in force.

     The ECO aims to protect employees who have sustained an injury as a result of an accident arising out of and in the course of their employment, or those suffering from an occupational disease covered by the ECO due to the nature of their work, and enable them to receive payment of compensation in an expeditious manner through a "no-fault" system. The ECO applies to, among others, (1) all full-time or part-time employees who are employed under contracts of service or apprenticeship, and (2) employees employed in Hong Kong by local employers injured while working outside Hong Kong.  Even if the employer is carrying on business outside Hong Kong, the ECO still applies if the employer submits to the jurisdiction of the Courts of Hong Kong and the employees have been recruited or engaged in Hong Kong.

     Moreover, occupational safety and health matters related to working away from Hong Kong or during business trips should be seriously addressed. For example, before their employees set off for a business trip, employers have the responsibility to ensure that the destination is safe, and appropriate protection and precaution such as vaccination and insurance cover are provided for their employees.

     Working in a new environment can cause physical and mental stress to employees. Coupled with time difference as well as changes in physical environment like weather, employees on business trips may suffer from insomnia, and other symptoms of non-acclimation like fatigue and emotional distress. Employers should therefore encourage effective communication between travelling employees and local colleagues or clients upon arrival at the business trip destination to mitigate such risks.

     Hong Kong's global success as a business and financial hub owes a lot to our stable and transparent legal system, low and simple tax, world-class business environment, free trade and fair competition as well as an efficient public sector. But it does not end there. Hong Kong's greatest strength lies with its people, and here we are well blessed with innovative and forward-looking entrepreneurs who exercise duty of care. We also have a vast pool of dedicated, efficient, adaptable and resourceful workforce.

     Ladies and gentlemen, the employer-employee relationship has always been one of symbiosis and mutual benefits. Globalisation has strengthened and tightened this symbiotic link rather than undermining it. As employees' international travel assignments become more commonplace, they are more frequently put out of their comfort zone and are exposed to higher health, safety and security risks. Employers must therefore respond to such challenges by adopting good practices of duty of care. This is not only to improve the well-being of employees but also for the company to survive and thrive in the highly contested global business environment.

     On this note, let me congratulate the International SOS Foundation and the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong for organising this Duty of Care Conference 2017 in Hong Kong. I wish you all a stimulating and fruitful conference. Thank you.
Ends/Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Issued at HKT 11:31
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