SLW's speaking notes on labour policy areas tabled at LegCo Finance Committee special meeting
Chairman and Honourable Members,
Recurrent spending on labour and manpower development in 2018-19 is estimated to be $2,085 million, representing an increase of $222 million (or 11.9 per cent) over the revised estimate of $1,863 million last year. It accounts for 0.5 per cent of the total recurrent government expenditure. I will briefly introduce the measures mentioned in the Budget Speech and then highlight the key areas of work in respect of labour and manpower development in the coming year.
Measures Mentioned in the Budget Speech
Promoting the Employment of the Elderly, Young People and Persons with Disabilities
To encourage employers to hire elderly persons and provide them with on-the-job training, the LD will enhance the Employment Programme for the Middle-aged. An on-the-job training allowance of up to $4,000 per month for a period of six to 12 months will be provided to employers engaging elderly job seekers aged 60 or above who have left the workforce or are unemployed. In addition, the LD will continue to, through various promotional activities, encourage employers to adopt friendly employment practices for elderly persons.
Besides, the training allowance granted to employers who engage young trainees of the Youth Employment and Training Programme in on-the-job training posts will be increased by $1,000 to a total of $4,000 per month for a period of six to 12 months. As for the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme, the work adaptation period will be extended from two months to three months and the amount of allowance payable to employers will be raised by $16,000 to a maximum of $51,000.
Providing One-off Extra Payment under the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme
In 2018-19, the Government proposes to provide a one-off extra payment to eligible recipients of the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS) Scheme. The extra payment is equal to twice the average monthly amount of WITS payable to the recipients in their most recently approved applications.
Enhancing Protection of Non-skilled Employees Engaged by Government Service Contractors
The Government is very concerned about the employment rights and benefits of non-skilled employees engaged by government service contractors. I am convening the inter-bureaux/departmental working group to explore feasible options to improve the government outsourcing system with a view to enhancing the protection of reasonable employment terms and conditions as well as labour benefits for these workers. As the matter has to be considered in the context of the overall Government policy, it warrants careful study and assessment of the additional resources involved. We target to complete the review before the third quarter of this year.
Continuing Education Fund
To encourage members of the public to pursue continuing education and self enhancement, the Government will raise the subsidy ceiling of Continuing Education Fund (CEF) from the current level of $10,000 to $20,000 per applicant. Those who have once opened a CEF account will also benefit from the initiative. We will implement in parallel a series of enhancement measures of CEF, including the relaxation of the upper age limit for applicants from 65 to 70, the expansion of the scope of CEF courses to all eligible courses registered in the Qualifications Register, lifting the restrictions on the validity period and the number of claims, and enhancement of the quality assurance monitoring of CEF courses. To support the aforesaid enhancement measures and sustain the operation of CEF, the Government will seek the approval of the LegCo FC on a total funding injection of $10 billion into CEF at the meeting on April 27, 2018. It is expected that a total of about 610 000 learners will benefit. We consulted the LegCo Panel on Manpower last month, and obtained support from the Panel. Subject to the progress of seeking approval from FC for the funding injection, we expect that all enhancement measures would be implemented from April 1, 2019.
The Government's inter-departmental working group is finalising the work of the consultancy study of drawing up a Talent List. We expect that the work of drawing up the talent list would be completed in mid-2018.
Key Areas of Work in the Coming Year
Protecting Employees' Rights and Benefits
As for the key areas of work in the coming year, the LD will continue to adopt a multi-pronged approach in safeguarding the rights and benefits of employees, which includes launching a wide variety of educational and publicity activities targeted at employers and employees, reminding employers of the importance of timely payment of statutory benefits, and proactively assisting employees who suspect their rights and benefits being infringed to pursue their claims against employers.
The LD will continue to strengthen intelligence gathering and evidence collection, conduct inspections to detect wage offences, and sustain stringent enforcement actions to tackle the problem at source by targeting company directors and responsible officers for committing wage offences. Where there are any suspected breaches, the LD will launch thorough investigation. With sufficient evidence, the LD will initiate prosecution. In 2017, the LD secured a total of 766 convictions against wage offences, including 249 summonses convicted against company directors and responsible officers.
To safeguard the employment opportunities of local workers, the Government will continue to take action against illegal employment. The departments concerned will maintain their close collaboration to share intelligence and take targeted actions to jointly combat illegal employment by surprise inspections. In 2017, the LD mounted 220 joint operations together with the Police and the Immigration Department.
Promoting Labour Relations
The LD will continue to closely monitor the labour relations scene and provide appropriate assistance to employers and employees in need. In 2017, the labour relations scene of Hong Kong remained generally stable. The number of labour disputes and employment claims handled by the LD last year was 14 723, which was similar to the figure of 2016. During the year, over 70 per cent of the cases were settled through conciliation.
Moreover, the LD will continue to make extensive publicity efforts to enhance public understanding of the Employment Ordinance (EO) and promote good people management culture so as to foster harmonious labour relations. The LD would also encourage employers to adopt family-friendly employment practices having regard to the specific circumstances of their enterprises and needs of their employees.
We will progressively enhance employment standards at a pace commensurate with Hong Kong's socio-economic development, taking account of employees' interests and employers' affordability. In the coming year, we will review and amend labour legislation, including:
Amending the Reinstatement and Re-engagement Provisions of EO
To enhance employees' protection in circumstances of unreasonable and unlawful dismissal, we introduced into the LegCo the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2017 (Bill) in May 2017 to amend the reinstatement and re-engagement provisions of EO. A Member has submitted committee stage amendments (CSAs) to the Bill proposing substantial changes to the Government's proposal as contained in the Bill. As the proposed amendments have never been discussed at the Bills Committee and represent a major departure from the consensus reached by the employer and employee representatives of the Labour Advisory Board (LAB), the Government is obliged to look into the implications of the proposed CSAs in greater detail. The LAB has been consulted on the CSAs. The Government will consider the views of the LAB and decide on the way forward.
Increasing Statutory Paternity Leave
To improve employees' benefits, the Government recommends that statutory paternity leave be increased from the existing three days to five days and has secured the support of the LAB and the LegCo Panel on Manpower. The LD is now preparing the enabling legislation together with the Department of Justice.
Reviewing Statutory Maternity Leave
The LD is now conducting a review on statutory maternity leave. We will take into account the needs of working women and the affordability of enterprises, and will consult the LAB on the review result.
Reviewing the Statutory Minimum Wage Rate
The increased Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW) rate at $34.5 per hour has been implemented smoothly from May 1 last year. The Minimum Wage Commission is working on a new round of review of the SMW rate with a view to submitting a report on its recommendation to the Chief Executive in Council by end-October this year.
Maintaining Hong Kong as a Favourable Place of Work for Foreign Domestic Helpers
The Government accords great importance to protecting the rights and benefits of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs). To address society's concerns regarding employment agencies (EAs), the LD has issued a code of practice for the industry and made legislative amendments. The Employment (Amendment) Ordinance 2018 came into effect on February 9, 2018. The LD will increase its manpower this year and increase the annual inspection target from 1 800 to 2 000 in order to strengthen enforcement against the malpractices of EAs. In addition, the LD will increase its manpower to step up publicity and education work to enhance FDHs' and employers' understanding of their respective rights and responsibilities, and will continue to maintain close collaboration with the consulates-general of the source countries of FDHs. We will also continue to explore new source countries of FDHs to meet the long-term demand of local families.
Enhancing Occupational Safety and Health
The LD always keeps occupational safety and health (OSH) enhancement strategies under review and adjusts the approach, focus and intensity of its work from time to time in light of the changes of work practices of different industries as well as the corresponding changes in the OSH risks they face. This is to ensure that the LD's work evolves with the time and yields the biggest impact.
The LD will further strengthen the protection of workers' OSH. Since the number of fatal accidents and the accident rate of the construction industry are the highest of all industries, we have always been particularly concerned about work safety in the construction industry. The LD will continue to alleviate work hazards in the construction industry through inspection and enforcement, publicity and promotion, and education and training.
The LD has launched a series of initiatives to improve the OSH in the construction industry. They include:
- To conduct in-depth surprise inspections of construction sites involving high risk processes or with poor safety performance to scrutinise the duty holders' safe systems of work and safety management systems;
- To step up participation in site safety management committee meetings of public work projects so that the LD will be apprised of their latest risk situation, and give advice on work processes of higher risk and adjust the inspection strategy accordingly in a more focused manner;
- To further enhance the promotion of the complaint channel and encourage construction workers to report unsafe working condition so that the LD can conduct prompt and targeted inspections;
- To promote the benefit of safety helmets with chin straps properly buckled in protecting workers from head injury in case of fall, and to revise the relevant guideline and take corresponding enforcement actions in order to enhance work-at-height safety; and
- To further enhance safety awareness of the construction industry by producing animation videos on "Work Safety Alert" to convey more vividly how accidents happened and the necessary safety measures to prevent such accidents.
In addition, the LD is actively reviewing the penalty levels of OSH legislation with a view to strengthening its deterrent effect, including studying whether it is appropriate to increase the maximum fines by pegging them to the financial means of those convicted. The LD aims to come up with the direction for amending the relevant legislation within the current legislative session.
The LD will continue to adopt a risk-based approach in formulating targeted measures to enhance the overall OSH performance of Hong Kong.
Employees Retraining Board
In 2018-19, the Employees Retraining Board will continue to focus on social groups with special needs and develop relevant courses and services for them, for example developing more new courses designed for women and homemakers, mature persons and ethnic minorities, as well as continuing to expand the "First-Hire-Then-Train" Pilot Scheme and meeting the need of individual sectors with manpower shortages, such as healthcare.
Vocational Training Council
In parallel, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) is planning to provide about 177 000 training places on vocational training in the 2018/19 academic year. In 2018-19, the Labour and Welfare Bureau's related recurrent subvention to the VTC will amount to $200 million.
This concludes my opening remarks. My colleagues and I will be happy to respond to questions from Members.
Ends/Friday, April 20, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:04
Issued at HKT 17:04