Government's response to withdrawal of notice to resume Second Reading debate on Employment (Amendment) Bill 2017

     In response to enquiries concerning the Government's withdrawal of the notice for resuming the Second Reading debate on the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2017 on January 31, a spokesman of the Government made the following response today (January 29) :
     The Government has earlier issued notices about its plan to resume the Second Reading debate of two bills, namely the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2017 (hereinafter referred to as the Reinstatement Bill) and the Employment (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2017 (hereinafter referred to as the Employment Agency Bill) at the Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting of January 31. In view that the Government needs to carefully assess the implications of the proposed Committee Stage Amendment (CSA) moved by a LegCo member, the Government has today (January 29) notified the LegCo about its withdrawal of the notice for the resumption of Second Reading debate on the Reinstatement Bill.
     The withdrawn Reinstatement Bill seeks to amend the Employment Ordinance (EO) (Cap. 57) to empower the Labour Tribunal to make an order for reinstatement or re-engagement as requested by an employee in case of unreasonable and unlawful dismissal without the need to first secure the employer's agreement if the Tribunal considers that the making of such an order is appropriate and practicable. The proposals for enhancing the protection to employees seeking reinstatement or re-engagement as contained in the Reinstatement Bill reflect the consensus arrived after protracted discussions of the Government and the Labour Advisory Board (LAB). The LegCo also set up a Bills Committee to scrutinise the Bill in June 2017, which was smoothly completed in January this year. Nonetheless, upon the Government's issue of a notice for resuming Second Reading debate on the Reinstatement Bill, a LegCo member submitted a set of CSAs involving substantial changes to the Government's legislative proposals. Given that the issues touched upon in the CSAs were not discussed by the Bills Committee and represent a major departure from the consensus reached by the LAB, the Government is obliged to carefully examine the implications of the CSAs and to consult LAB where necessary. The Government therefore has to withdraw the notice of resumption of the Second Reading debate on the Reinstatement Bill. 
     Nonetheless, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare will continue to propose the resumption of the Second Reading debate on the Employment Agency Bill as originally planned on January 31. The Bill, which seeks to strengthen the regulation of employment agencies (EAs), contains proposals to: (i) raise the maximum penalty for the offences of unlicensed operation of EAs and overcharging of job-seekers as provided in Part XII of EO, from currently a maximum fine of $50,000 to a maximum fine of $350,000 and imprisonment of three years; (ii) extend the scope of the overcharging offence to cover certain persons associated with the licensee, including the management of EAs and persons employed by the EAs; (iii) provide new grounds that the Commissioner for Labour (C for L) may refuse to issue/renew or revoke a licence (e.g. if an associate of the licensee has contravened any provision of Part XII of the EO or any regulation made under section 62 of the EO, etc.); and (iv) specify that C for L may issue from time to time codes of practice for EAs, and make it clear that non-compliance with the Code by the licensee and/or associate(s) will be a ground upon which the C for L may refuse to issue or renew, or revoke a licence under the EO.
     The Government hopes that the Employment Agency Bill can be passed by the LegCo as soon as possible in order to enhance the protection for job-seekers (including the over 370 000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong).

Ends/Monday, January 29, 2018
Issued at HKT 21:54