SLW's speaking notes on labour, manpower development and retirement protection policy areas tabled at LegCo Finance Committee special meeting

     Following are the speaking notes of the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, on labour, manpower development and retirement protection policy areas tabled at the special meeting of the Legislative Council Finance Committee today (April 17):

Chairman and Honourable Members,

     Recurrent spending on labour and manpower development in 2023-24 is estimated to be $3,220 million, representing an increase of $550 million (20.6 per cent) over the revised estimate of $2,670 million last year. It accounts for 0.6 per cent of the total recurrent government expenditure. I will highlight the key areas of work in respect of labour and manpower development in the coming year.

Abolition of Mandatory Provident Fund offsetting arrangement

     The Legislative Council passed the legislation in June 2022 to abolish the use of the accrued benefits of employers' mandatory contributions under the Mandatory Provident Fund System to offset severance payments and long service payments. The Government will implement the abolition by no later than 2025. The Government will launch the Government Subsidy Scheme to provide to employers a subsidy of more than $33 billion for 25 years to help them adapt to the policy change by sharing out the post-transition portion of severance payments and long service payments. We plan to seek funding from the Legislative Council in the middle of this year for developing the information technology system for the Government Subsidy Scheme.

Statutory Minimum Wage

     The Legislative Council approved the subsidiary legislation on the revised Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW) rate last month. The SMW rate will increase from the current $37.5 per hour to $40 per hour with effect from May 1 this year.

     In January this year, the Chief Executive invited the Minimum Wage Commission (MWC) to study how to enhance the review mechanism of the SMW, including the review cycle, how to improve efficiency as well as balancing a host of factors such as the minimum wage level and sustained economic development. The MWC is required to submit a study report by end-October this year. The MWC has already pressed ahead with the relevant work and is currently conducting a public consultation to gauge the community's views on enhancing the SMW review mechanism.

Review of "continuous contract" requirement under Employment Ordinance

     The Government has commenced the review of the "continuous contract" requirement under the Employment Ordinance and discussion by the Labour Advisory Board is underway. We will prudently and thoroughly explore the pros and cons of different options with a view to striving for consensus between employers and employees.

Enhancement measures for processing applications to Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund

     The Labour Department (LD) and the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund Board have enhanced the application and processing procedures of the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund. The application procedures are estimated to be shortened by up to 12 weeks. We will monitor the implementation of the enhanced procedures.

Enhancing occupational safety and health

     Pursuant to the risk-based principle and keeping close tabs on the occupational safety and health (OSH) risk levels of various industries and the changes, the LD has been formulating and adjusting the strategies of inspection and enforcement, publicity and promotion as well as education and training in a timely manner, in order to actively promote the OSH culture, raise the OSH awareness and prevent accidents from happening.

     The number of fatal industrial accidents and the accident rate per 1 000 workers of the construction industry are the highest among all industries. The LD is committed to raising the OSH level of the construction industry through various measures, including urging duty holders to properly manage the OSH risks at all times and taking appropriate safety measures; conducting special enforcement operations targeting high-risk processes; conducting surprise inspections and stepping up area patrols to curb high-risk work activities.

     The LD is highly concerned about the recent serious and fatal work accidents. Apart from commencing immediate on-site investigations, issuing suspension notices to the relevant duty holders and ascertaining the legal liability of the duty holders concerned, the LD has launched a series of follow-up actions having regard to the nature of the accidents, such as conducting targeted special enforcement operations and stepping up enforcement efforts. When it is considered that carrying out certain work process or operating certain machinery may pose a considerable OSH risk, the LD will order for immediate suspension of the activities to protect workers' safety.

     The LD is amending the OSH legislation to increase the maximum penalties. The resumption of the Second Reading debate on the relevant Bill is scheduled for Wednesday (April 19), and we hope Members would support the Bill. Upon passage of the Bill by the Legislative Council, the deterrent effect of the OSH legislation will be effectively enhanced.

Pilot Rehabilitation Programme for Employees Injured at Work

     The LD rolled out the three-year Pilot Rehabilitation Programme for Employees Injured at Work in September 2022, targeting at injured employees in the construction industry. The objective is to provide timely private outpatient rehabilitation treatment for participating injured employees in the construction sector under a case management approach to facilitate their early return to work. The Pilot Programme is funded mainly by the Government, while employers of the participants shoulder part of the rehabilitation treatment expenses to fulfil their statutory responsibility under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance. We will actively promote the Pilot Programme with the view of helping more injured workers recover early.

Guidance notes on prevention of heat stroke at work

     The LD will issue a new set of guidance notes this summer to assist employers and employees in taking appropriate measures to safeguard employees against heat stroke at work.

Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme

     The Government carried out the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme regularly starting from March 1 this year to encourage enterprises to employ university graduates from Hong Kong to work in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), so as to foster the career development of Hong Kong young people. Participating enterprises should have business in both Hong Kong and GBA Mainland cities, and offer Hong Kong young people a monthly salary not less than HK$18,000. The Government grants allowance to enterprises according to the number of young people employed, up to a maximum of 18 months. The estimated annual expenditure of the regularised scheme is about $118 million, benefitting 1 000 university graduates.

Employment support for ethnic minorities

     The LD has commissioned two non-governmental organisations to implement the Racial Diversity Employment Programme, providing one-stop employment services to ethnic minority job seekers through a case management approach. After review, the LD will regularise the Programme from this year onwards given the satisfactory results.

     To further assist the employment of ethnic minorities, the LD will, starting from the first half of this year, recruit more ethnic minorities as Employment Assistants and General Assistants to enhance their employment opportunities.

     On promoting manpower development, the Government's focus of work this year in this aspect will include the following: (1) trawl for outside talents; (2) promote local manpower training through the implementation of the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) and support of the Employees Retraining Board (ERB); and (3) enhance manpower projection.

Trawl for talents

     Since the launch of the Top Talent Pass Scheme and the enhancement of various existing talent admission schemes late last year, the number of talents outside Hong Kong applying for the schemes and with visa application approved successfully has greatly increased. The Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB), relevant bureaux/departments and the Immigration Department will closely monitor the implementation of various talent admission schemes and evaluate outcomes, so as to review related arrangements in a timely manner.

     To render better support for the talents coming to Hong Kong, the LWB is making preparations for setting up the physical office of the Hong Kong Talent Engage (HKTE) in the middle of this year to provide talents with one-stop services in relocation, employment and children's education, including establishing business connections with potential employers, enabling them to settle down and stay in Hong Kong for long-term development. The HKTE is proposed to be a three-year time-limited establishment. The estimated expenditure is approximately $83 million per annum. The LWB will review the HKTE's operation and experience in deciding the arrangements in the long run after its launch.

Training and retraining

     The ERB has just revised the disbursement arrangement of retraining allowance and adjusted upward the daily rate of allowance to encourage the unemployed and job seekers to enroll in training and join the workforce last month. The ERB will continue to offer some 700 diversified regular training courses covering nearly 30 industries and generic skills, providing over 100 000 training places a year to assist the unemployed and eligible serving employees to upgrade their employment-related skills, also maintaining communication with industries to ensure that the contents and quality of the courses meet the need of manpower development in Hong Kong.

     Since its establishment, the CEF has been providing subsidies to adults with learning aspirations to pursue continuing education and training to complement the development of Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy. The Audit Commission and the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Council have made recommendations on the CEF last year. The LWB will monitor, improve, and review the operation of the CEF on the basis of these recommendations so as to put the CEF into optimal use to facilitate upskilling of our workforce and further unleash the potential of the local labour force.

Enhancement to Manpower Projection

     The LWB will undertake the next round of Manpower Projection with an enhanced methodology in the middle of this year. We will assess with greater precision the manpower and skills requirements at different skills levels in key industries for the coming five years, thereby facilitating the formulation of targeted strategies and measures.

     Chairman, this concludes my opening remarks. Members are welcome to raise questions.

Ends/Monday, April 17, 2023
Issued at HKT 11:25