Speech by SLW at 2017 Hong Kong Conference of Workability International and Workability Asia (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Stephen Sui, at the 2017 Hong Kong Conference of Workability International and Workability Asia today (June 12):

Mr Jerry Davis (President of Workability International), Mr Katsunori Fujii (Chairperson of Workability Asia), Mr Xiang Zicheng (Member of the Executive Board of the China Disabled Persons' Federation), Mrs Nata-orn Indeesri (Director, Division of Fund and Equality Promotion, Department of Empowerment Persons with Disabilities, Thailand), Mr Benny Cheung (Chairperson of the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities), Ms Crystal Cheng (Business Director of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service), Ms Deborah Wan (Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of the 2017 Hong Kong Conference), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to kick-start the 2017 Hong Kong Conference of Workability International and Workability Asia and address this high-powered audience in the field of rehabilitation.

     My warmest congratulations and heartfelt appreciation to Workability International and Workability Asia, for bringing together an impressive lineup of international speakers, academics, practitioners, policymakers, social entrepreneurs and stakeholders of disability-related disciplines.

     Let me also give a warm and cordial welcome to all our overseas guests for coming all the way to Hong Kong. I am sure your expert knowledge, best practices, innovative ideas, enriched experiences and refreshing insights will not only enlighten the Hong Kong community, but also help to make our global village a more inclusive and compassionate place for all.

     About 10 years ago, on March 30, 2007, our home country the People's Republic of China was among the first batch of states that signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Convention enshrines the spirits and values of equal rights and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and promotes full-swing and multi-pronged empowerment to facilitate their independent living. CRPD entered into force for China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), on August 31, 2008. This marked a watershed for Hong Kong's rehabilitation development and we take our obligations under CRPD very seriously. Since then, different sectors in Hong Kong, including the Government, the business sector and the civil society, have joined hands in stepping up their efforts to nurture an inclusive, barrier-free, caring and fair society which enables persons with disabilities to lead an autonomous life with dignity and equal opportunities.

     In fact, the year 2008 was also a time when I took up the post of Commissioner for Rehabilitation, in which I served for 6.5 years. This came before my appointment as the Under Secretary for Labour and Welfare, and the Secretary for Labour and Welfare. The well-being of persons with disabilities has therefore always been an issue very close to my heart.

     As one of the clear indications of our firm commitment to promoting an inclusive and barrier-free society, the HKSAR Government has been allocating increasing resources to strengthen the support and services for persons with disabilities. The overall government recurrent expenditure of these services has increased from HK$16.6 billion (about US$2.13 billion) in 2007-08, the year before CRPD entered into force in Hong Kong, to HK$31.5 billion (about US$4.04 billion) in 2017-18, up by a significant 90 per cent. This represents 8.5 per cent of our total government recurrent expenditure.

     The Government's efforts have been guided by two major strategic directions, namely providing persons with disabilities with a barrier-free environment to facilitate their full integration into society and empowering them to become valuable human capital.

     Sharing the vision of Workability International and Workability Asia, the HKSAR Government regards promoting the employability of persons with disabilities as a matter of paramount importance. As a kind of paid and meaningful engagement for persons with disabilities, a job offer enhances a sense of self-worth, helps build up self-confidence, and provides an avenue for social integration with colleagues and customers at the workplace. All these factors work together to unleash the enormous potential within the employee concerned. In fact, employment means a lot to persons with disabilities, their families, friends and loved ones, as well as society at large. That is why the theme of this conference, "Creating a Sustainable Ecosystem for Persons with Disabilities at Work", carries much social significance.

     The HKSAR Government, as an employer, welcomes applications from persons with disabilities. Candidates with disabilities are given an appropriate degree of preference to enable them to compete with able-bodied candidates on equal grounds. We also provide on-the-job support and assistive devices to employees with disabilities to facilitate them to effectively carry out their duties. To provide more opportunities for colleagues of various government bureaux and departments to better understand the abilities and potential of persons with disabilities and enrich the exposure of youngsters with disabilities to government jobs, the Civil Service Bureau launched a new internship scheme for students with disabilities studying in tertiary institutions in June 2016. Following its success, the Government launched another part of this scheme last winter to cover students with special education needs who are aged 15 or above and studying in the Shine Skills Centre of the Vocational Training Council.

     As for legal protection, in Hong Kong we have specific legislative measures in place to guard against disability discrimination in employment, in addition to safeguarding the equal rights of persons with disabilities under the Basic Law and Bills of Rights. We will also spare no efforts to enhance employment support and vocational training services.

     Moreover, we will continue to strengthen our affirmative measures to create job opportunities. The HKSAR Government provides funding support to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the setting up of small enterprises to directly create job opportunities for persons with disabilities. A funded business is required to fulfil the condition that the number of employees with disabilities should not be less than 50 per cent of the total number of employees under its payroll. Over 2 800 persons with disabilities have been employed in these funded small businesses so far. In 2017-18, the Government will inject an additional funding of HK$100 million (about US$ 12.82 million) into this initiative and the proposed injection is estimated to create around 800 additional employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

     Apart from this, we have implemented the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme under which participating employers will receive financial incentive equal to two-thirds of the actual salary paid to each employee with disabilities during the first eight months of the employment period, with a monthly allowance ranging from US$500 to US$700.

     We also subsidise employers of persons with disabilities for procuring assistive devices and carrying out workplace modification works. In addition, through providing a mentorship award, we aim to encourage employers to render workplace guidance to employees with disabilities. We also provide counselling services to persons with disabilities to help them settle in their jobs.

     In taking forward these initiatives, we firmly believe in stakeholders' participation and partnership. Our Talent-Wise Employment Charter and Inclusive Organisations Recognition Scheme is a shining example of promoting employment of persons with disabilities through tripartite partnerships. The Labour and Welfare Bureau, in collaboration our principal advisory committee on matters pertaining to the well-being of persons with disabilities, the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (RAC), and our close partners the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service launched the Scheme in September 2013. It seeks to engage employers of all trades and sectors, including businesses, all the government bureaux and departments, public bodies and NGOs, in providing more internship and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

     Looking ahead, we will continue to strengthen our collaboration with the rehabilitation sector, including the RAC, the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, NGOs, self-help groups of persons with disabilities, employers and various sectors of the community in fulfilment of the spirit and core values enshrined in CRPD. Indeed, Benny is the Chairperson of the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities, Deborah is both the Vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities and the former Chairperson of the Employment Sub-committee of the RAC, and Crystal is the Business Director of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and a member of the RAC. Today is yet another occasion showing how we have been working together closely.

     Ladies and gentlemen, around the world and here in Hong Kong, much remains to be accomplished before persons with disabilities can realise their full potential as equal and valued members of society. We must join our hands together to eliminate the stereotypes and discrimination that perpetuate their exclusion and build an accessible, enabling and inclusive environment for all. Let us work together for the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in an inclusive and sustainable world that embraces humanity in all its diversity.

     Workability International, Workability Asia as well as the Conference today have provided us a powerful platform to consolidate our collaboration in realising our common vision. I take this opportunity to invite all the honourable guests here to join me to pay special tribute to Deborah, Mr Davis, Mr Fujii and all members of the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and the Organizing Committee for their distinguished efforts in organising this amazing event.

     Last but not least, let me wish you all a fruitful and stimulating discussion in the Conference and overseas guests a joyful stay in Hong Kong. Thank you.

Ends/Monday, June 12, 2017
Issued at HKT 17:51