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LCQ3: Importation of workers by agriculture and fisheries industry
     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):
     The Government has resumed the collection of levy under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (the levy) since 2013 whereby employers who are granted approval for importing workers are required to pay a levy of $400 each month in respect of each imported worker, and the levy is for the Employees Retraining Board to augment the provision of training and retraining for local workers. However, quite a number of employers in the agriculture and fisheries industry (including chicken farms, fish rafts, fish ponds and pig farms) who have imported workers have relayed that although the collection of the levy has been resumed for nearly 10 years, the authorities have not yet been able to train up suitable local manpower for them. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the amount of the levy collected by the Government from employers in the agriculture and fisheries industry and the percentage of such amount in the total amount of levy collected, as well as the number of imported workers in the agriculture and fisheries industry and the percentage of such number in the total number of imported workers, in each of the past five years; how the authorities use the levy collected to train up local agriculture and fisheries workers, and the number of such workers successfully trained up;

(2) given that the authorities have, for years, failed to assist employers in the agriculture and fisheries industry in training up suitable local workers, of the Government's justifications for continuing to collect the levy from employers in the agriculture and fisheries industry; whether it will consider adjusting the policy, including lowering the levy or adjusting the levy on the basis of a percentage of a worker's salary, so as to avoid aggravating the already heavy financial burden on the businesses of employers in the agriculture and fisheries industry; and

(3) as some employers in the agriculture and fisheries industry and in other industries have relayed that the Government took a long time in the past to process applications for importation of workers, and that it has taken even as long as one year since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic for such applications to be approved, making the employers easily become vulnerable to a worker vacuum period, of the longest and the shortest time required in the past three years from employers submitting applications for importation of workers to employers being granted approvals; whether the Government will improve the relevant application process?
     In tandem with the social and economic development of Hong Kong, the Government is committed to nurturing local talents of different sectors and enhancing the employability and competitiveness of employees. On the premise of safeguarding the employment priority for local workers, the Government allows importation of workers, so as to alleviate the shortage of manpower in individual sectors/job categories.
     As regards the question raised by the Member, my reply is as follows:

(1) It is the Government's established policy that employers approved of importing low-skilled workers should contribute towards the fees for training and retraining of the local workforce. In line with this policy, all employers of workers imported under the labour importation schemes designated under the Employees Retraining Ordinance (Cap. 423) (the Ordinance) have been required to pay the Employees Retraining Levy (the Levy) since the commencement of the Ordinance in 1992. The Levy is transferred to the Employees Retraining Fund administered by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) for providing training and retraining to local workers. 

     Since 1996, employers have been allowed to apply for importation of workers at technician level or below under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS). The SLS is a labour importation scheme designated under the Ordinance. In accordance with the Ordinance, employers are required to pay the Levy amounted to $400 per imported worker per month. The total amount payable by employers is $400 multiplied by the number of months covered by each employment contract up to a maximum of 24 months.

     According to the statistics provided by the Immigration Department, the amount of the Levy collected for the importation of workers in the agriculture and fisheries industry in the past five years has been largely stable, with an average of about $6.5 million per year, accounting for about 20 per cent of the total annual amount of the Levy. Detailed figures are at Annex 1.

     The ERB has been providing training courses that are market-driven and employment-oriented. In the past five years, the ERB has not received suggestions from training bodies or employer groups to provide courses related to the agriculture and fisheries industry, and no trainees have enrolled in relevant courses. Employers that offer 12 or more vacancies in a particular position which requires special skill sets can apply for the ERB's "Tailor-made Programme". The ERB will provide free recruitment, pre-employment training and placement follow-up services to relevant employers.

     As regards the SLS, the numbers of imported workers approved for the agriculture and fisheries industry each year from 2018 to 2022 ranged from 705 to 912, accounting for 15.6 per cent to 25 per cent of the total number of imported workers approved in respective years. Detailed figures are at Annex 2.

(2) Under the SLS, employers of imported workers in any industry should pay the Levy in accordance with the law. The arrangement of the Levy meets the policy objective of assisting the retraining of local workers. The Government currently has no plan to lower the Levy or adjust the mode of the Levy for employers of particular industries.

(3) The time required by the Labour Department (LD) for processing each SLS application is affected by various factors. They include whether the applicant employer has provided sufficient information or requested to change the application details during processing, whether special trade tests need to be administered for local job seekers during the four-week open recruitment period, etc. If the job vacancies involve novel job titles or special skills, the LD will need more time to seek advice from relevant bureaux and/or departments, training bodies, professional bodies, etc. for setting the reasonable wages, entry requirements, scope of duties, etc.

     In recent years, the processing of most SLS applications has taken about five months. The LD from time to time reviews the implementation of the SLS and adopts feasible measures with a view to enhancing the workflow of processing applications.
Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:05
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