LegCo Paper No. CB(1)2007/95-96
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/MP/1
LegCo Panel on Manpower
Minutes of Meeting
held on Monday, 22 July 1996 at 2:30 p.m.
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Hon LAU Chin-shek (Chairman)
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
Hon LAW Chi-kwong
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Members Absent :
Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Deputy Chairman)
Hon NGAI Shiu-kit, OBE, JP
Hon SZETO Wah
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon LI Wah-ming
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon TSANG Kin-shing
Public Officers Attending :
- Item II
- Ms Ingird HO
- Acting Deputy Secretary for Security
- Mr T K LAI
- Acting Assistant Director of Immigration
- Item III
- Mr LEE Kai-fat, JP
- Deputy Commissioner for Labour
- Mr MAK Sai-yiu, JP
- Assistant Commissioner for Labour
- Mr Peter Berry
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Works
- Mr Herman CHO
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Staff in Attendance :
Miss Odelia LEUNG, CAS(1)1
Ms Connie SZE-TO, SAS(1)5
I. Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting and matters arising
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1868/95-96)
The minutes of the special meeting held on 24 June 1996 were confirmed.
2. Members agreed that no Panel meeting would be scheduled for August and September 1996. The Chairman informed members that the first meeting of the Panel in the 1996-97 LegCo session for the election of Chairman would be held on Wednesday, 2 October 1996 at 10:30 a.m.
II. Employment of overseas nationals in Hong Kong
(Statistics provided by the Administration at Annexes A to F tabled at the meeting)
3. Upon invitation by the Chairman, Ms Ingrid HO briefed members on the statistics at Annexes A to F provided pursuant to members request at the meeting on 27 May 1996. She apologised for the delay in submitting the information and undertook to provide the Chinese version after the meeting. In this connection, members remarked that representatives from the Education and Manpower Branch should also attend any future discussion of this item.
Employment of overseas nationals in Hong Kong
4. Members remained concerned about the current policy on admission of overseas professionals to work in Hong Kong and cast doubt on the effectiveness of the vetting criteria and procedures in considering the applications for employment visas. Another member requested for a breakdown on the number of employment visas issued in 1994, 1995 and first quarter of 1996 in respect of the professions listed in Annex D.
5. In response, Mr T K LAI explained as follows :
(a) Details on the policy and criteria adopted in considering the applications had been provided in an information paper submitted to members at the meeting on 27 May 1996. One of the general principles adopted was that applicants should possess a special skill, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in Hong Kong. An overseas applicant was required to obtain the relevant permission/recognition from the relevant professional bodies if he/she intended to engage in professional practice in Hong Kong. Proof of qualifications and experience were required.
(b) In vetting the applications, the Immigration Department (ImmD) would seek comments from relevant departments to determine whether the special skill possessed by the applicant was in need in Hong Kong and would also refer to official information on the local employment situation.
(c) At present, the ImmD could only classify the employment visas issued by broad profession. The information for 1994,1995 and the first quarter of 1996 were provided in Annex C. The ImmD was considering the compilation of statistics on the number of employment visas issued by more specific categories as in Annex D. To follow up on the members request, the ImmD would check whether the figures provided in Annex C could be broken down into categories shown in Annex D.
6. A member also expressed concern about the admission of overseas non-professionals to work in Hong Kong. As far as he reckoned, about 38,000 employment visas were issued to such workers in 1994. He enquired about the vetting and control mechanism on the entrants.
In response, Mr LAI made the following points :
- The majority of the overseas non-professionals admitted were foreign domestic helpers (FDHs). The remaining included workers imported under the General Labour Importation Scheme the quota ceiling of which was 25,000 in 1994, and the current Supplementary Labour Scheme implemented from February 1996 onwards with an initial quota ceiling of 2,000. Applicants for employment as FDHs were required inter alia to provide proof of two years relevant working experience. As a general rule, employers were required to prove that their local recruitment effort was unsuccessful before they would be allowed to import foreign labour. The wages payable to imported workers should also be comparable to those of local workers in order to ensure that cheap labour would not be brought in at the expense of local workers.
8. A member expressed concern about the lack of effective control on overseas nationals during their stay in Hong Kong. As entrant overseas nationals could marry local residents and apply for settlement in Hong Kong and female entrants were entitled to maternity protection as their local counterparts, the member asked whether there were any measures to deal with the problems which might arise as a result.
9. In reply, Ms Ho said that the employment visa issued to overseas professionals were usually valid for 12 months while the standard employment contract for imported workers or FDHs was for a period of not more than 2 years. The name of the employer and the work type were specified as landing conditions in the entry visa of the worker and unauthorised changes were not permitted. Mr LAI supplemented that while the entrant workers right to marriage and giving birth to children had to be respected, the Administration was aware of the possibility of abuse such as seeking permanent settlement in Hong Kong by false marriage. Applications for permanent residency by marriage from entrant workers were thus very carefully vetted.
PRC nationals working in Hong Kong
10. As regards the policy on admission of PRC nationals to work in Hong Kong, Ms HO advised that employment visas would normally be issued only to those engaged to work for PRC-based enterprises in Hong Kong, to workers under the labour importation schemes, and to the 1,000 professionals under the Pilot Scheme. PRC nationals who had resided outside China, Macau and Hong Kong for more than two years could also apply to work in Hong Kong. She added that apart from the aforesaid categories, other applications from PRC nationals residing in China for employment in Hong Kong would not normally be approved. This restriction was imposed to prevent PRC nationals from bypassing the one-way permit system through employment with a view to settling permanently in Hong Kong.
11. A member pointed out that such restriction was unfair to PRC nationals as other foreign nationals were not subject to the same restriction. In response, Ms HO explained that in order to prevent possible abuse, there was no intention to relax the rules for the time being. It was considered that PRC nationals already residing overseas were less likely to take the opportunity of working in Hong Kong to obtain permanent residence and so far, no abuse of the policy by other foreign nationals as a means to obtain settlement in Hong Kong had been noticed.
12. Responding to a members suggestion, the Chairman advised that problems arising from employers applying for their family members and relatives from the PRC to take up employment in Hong Kong with a view to enabling them to settle in the territory would be raised again at the Panel in the next LegCo session.
13. In reply to the Chairmans enquiry about the occupations and positions taken up by PRC employees working in state-owned enterprises in Hong Kong, Mr LAI said that at present, there were about 10,000 such employees who were usually the core management staff of the companies. This number had remained steady since 1993. He undertook to find out whether a further breakdown by occupation and position was available.
14. Referring to a recent suggestion by some local employers associations to admit PRC nationals to work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong, a member enquired about the Administrations monitoring mechanism if such a scheme were to be introduced. In reply, Ms HO confirmed that under existing policy, PRC nationals were not admitted to work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong.
British citizens working in Hong Kong
15. Members were still concerned about the current policy of allowing British citizens to enter Hong Kong and take up employment freely. The Chairman recalled that at the Panel meeting on 27 May 1996, the Administration was urged to consider members view to halt the policy in anticipation of the change of sovereignty in 1997 without awaiting the results of the 1996 By-Census on the employment situation of foreign nationals in Hong Kong.
16. Ms HO explained that the current free-visa policy for British nationals reflected the special relationship between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The Administration was aware of the need to conduct a review on the policy in anticipation of the change of sovereignty in 1997. As there were other more urgent transitional issues to be tackled, the review would not commence immediately. The Administration would consider advancing the review if results of the 1996 By-Census so warranted, for example, if there was a large number of British citizens taking up jobs which could be readily filled by local people. As regards the future policy, Ms HO refrained from speculating on the result of the review but stressed that the local employment situation would be duly considered in the policy review.
17. In reply to a members enquiry about the treatment of British citizens currently working in Hong Kong as a result of future policy change, Ms HO advised that as a general principle, the rights or benefits previously enjoyed by persons prior to any change in policy should not be affected. In this connection, members urged that the policy review should be conducted as soon as possible and a clear policy decision be promulgated.
III. Action plan to enhance industrial safety
(Appendices A and B of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1865/95-96, three information papers from the Administration tabled at the meeting.)
18. Mr Herman CHO briefly reported on the action taken by the Administration on enhancing industrial safety since the first inter-departmental meeting on 18 June 1996. On the role and functions of the new Industrial Safety Division to be established in the Education and Manpower Branch, Mr CHO emphasised that the new Division would be the co-ordinating unit for industrial safety issues while the various departments would continue to enforce their own safety laws.
Enforcement action at construction sites
19. Members noted with grave concern the large number of summonses taken out following the two blitz campaigns on construction sites launched by the Labour Department (LD) which revealed that the safety situation was far from satisfactory. They urged that blitz inspections should be continued and extended to other areas of work besides work at height and confined spaces. Members shared the view that the staffing of the Factory Inspectorate should be strengthened and asked the Administration to consider recovering the cost for conducting site inspections from the contractors or proprietors.
20. Addressing members concerns, Mr K F LEE made the following points :
- So far, a total of 1,354 sites had been inspected which included 794 private sites and 166 sites under the Airport Core Projects (ACP). Prosecution would be taken out in respect of 267 sites of which 157 and 31 were private projects and ACP sites respectively. In considering the overall safety situation, it should be borne in mind that the majority of the sites inspected were found to be in order.
- Phase one of the first blitz campaign was targeted at work at height and confined spaces, both of which were highly accident-prone. Prosecution had been taken out against breaches of safety regulations as a result of the Administrations determination in enhancing industrial safety. The campaign was effective as revealed by the responsive and co-operative attitude of contractors in undertaking remedial actions and the lower prosecution figures during the extended phase of the exercise.
- While regular inspection visits by Factory Inspectors (FIs) would continue, intensive enforcement campaigns would be launched on an ad-hoc basis as it was also necessary to allow time for processing prosecutions. As regards manpower, new FIs had been recruited and were currently under training. Every effort would be made to step up enforcement action.
- At present, the Administration had no plan to recover the cost for conducting inspection visits from contractors or proprietors. The suggestion had to be carefully studied in view of its far-reaching implications.
21. In response to a members request, Mr S Y MAK undertook to provide members with the number of government project sites that had been found to be in breach of safety regulations.
Role of safety officers
22. A member commented that the Administration had done little to enhance the work of safety officers (SOs) and urged the Administration to conduct a comprehensive review on the role and training of SOs.
23. In response, Mr LEE assured members that the Administration recognised the important role of SOs in upholding industrial safety at the workplace and was aware of the difficulties they might face in performing their duties. Important issues such as enhancing the professional status of SOs through continued training, instituting a registration system for SOs, and enhancement of communication between SOs and project managers were discussed at the conference for SOs on 19 July 1996. He also confirmed that a review on SOs would be conducted. The findings and recommendations would be reported to the Panel upon completion of the review by the end of 1996.
24. As regards a members suggestion to require contractors to provide safety reports prepared by SOs to the Administration at regular intervals to facilitate the latter in taking effective enforcement action, Mr S Y MAK advised that at present, SOs were already required by law to submit monthly reports to contractors and such reports should be made available for inspection by FIs. Although for the time being, there was no plan to require SOs to file safety reports with the Administration direct, Mr MAK assured members that the suggestion would be considered in the comprehensive review on SOs.
Inter-departmental meeting on industrial safety
25. In reply to a members query on the effectiveness of the inter-departmental meeting and its relationship with the LD, Mr CHO explained that different departments had their distinct role in enforcing safety laws and the main purpose of the inter-departmental meeting was to better co-ordinate the work of the various departments involved in industrial safety.
Occupational Safety Charter (OSC)
26. A member cast doubt on the effectiveness of the proposed OSC and made reference to charters introduced for other purposes which had not proved to be effective. The Chairman commented that the rights/protection of employees and the responsibilities of employers had not been clearly spelt out in the proposed OSC and more importantly, the role of the Administration in monitoring and enforcing occupational safety had not been mentioned. Summing up members views, he said that the Panel would be prepared to support an OSC which clearly stipulated the tripartite roles of the Government, employers and employees in enhancing safety at work and urged the Administration to consider members views seriously.
27. Despite passage of the Buildings (Amendment) Ordinance and the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Amendment) Ordinance in early July 1996, a member expressed dissatisfaction on the slow progress by the Administration in introducing other legislative proposals on industrial safety, many of which had already been discussed and supported by the Labour Advisory Board.
28. In reply, Mr CHO and Mr MAK advised that the Occupational Safety and Health Bill, which was a new piece of legislation extending occupational safety and health protection to the non-industrial sector, and two amendment regulations relating to safety measures on working at height and in confined spaces would be introduced in early 1996-97 LegCo session. In this connection, the Chairman requested the Administration to provide the legislative timetable for introducing various safety-related bills for members reference. He also considered that these bills should be enacted as early as possible and hoped that the House Committee would agree to expedite the scrutiny of these bills.
A point system for contractors
29. Reporting on the progress of introducing a point system to sanction contractors which had unsatisfactory records, Mr Peter Berry said that after consulting the works departments safety advisers and construction industry associations, the Works Group of Directors would discuss the preliminary details on 31 July 1996. A second round of consultation and discussion would be held in early August 1996 with a view to finalising the system by the end of August. A pilot scheme would be conducted for a short period of time before the system was to be implemented on a general basis, hopefully in the first quarter of 1997. The proposed system would be fair, open, easily understood as well as applicable to all public works contracts.
The meeting ended at 4:30 p.m.
30 August 1996
Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998