Concluding observations of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on theThird Periodic Report in respect of Hong Kong issued on 6 December 1996


The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considered, at its fifteenth session, the Third Periodic Report submitted by the UK in respect of Hong Kong on articles 1 to 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

2. The Committee issued its concluding observations (Annex A) on 6 December 1996. The Administration’s initial views on the Committee’s suggestions and recommendations are set out below.

Continued reporting (paragraph 32 of Annex A)

3. We agree entirely with the Committee that following the resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, China is obliged under the Joint Declaration to continue to apply the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Hong Kong and to submit reports on Hong Kong after 1 July 1997.

4. We welcome the assurance that the Committee will be flexible about the way in which reports can be submitted after the handover. The Committee’s view has been made known to the Chinese side and the British Government will continue to urge the Chinese Government to work with them to find a way forward on the reporting obligation after 1 July 1997.

Suggestions and recommendations embodied in the Committee’s concluding observations of 1994 and of 1996 (paragraph 33)

5. The suggestions and recommendations of the Committee are taken very seriously in the context of policy making in Hong Kong. Where we hold a different view to the Committee, we take pains to explain our stance in the periodic reports and at the subsequent hearings. We remain firmly committed to the realization of the rights enshrined in the Covenant as applied to Hong Kong.

A fair and open one-way permit system (paragraph 34)

6. As explained to the Committee, there are regular meetings between the Hong Kong Immigration Department and the Bureau of Exit/Entry Administration of China to review the operation of the one-way permit system. We have reflected our view on split families to the Chinese side and will monitor the issue closely. We have also urged the Chinese side to issue one-way permits on the basis of family units.

Retraining of the unemployed or underemployed (paragraph 35)

7. The Administration has undertaken comprehensive studies on the current system of providing vocational training and retraining to workers who have been displaced as a result of the restructuring of the economy. A review of the employees retraining scheme has completed. The review aims to map out a long term strategy for ensuring a well trained workforce. The Administration is now consulting the public on major recommendations of the review.

Amending the Sex Discrimination Ordinance to include provisions on reinstatement in employment and removal of the current cap on compensation (paragraph 36)

8. The present provisions under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance which do not provide for reinstatement orders and putting a cap on damages were all thoroughly debated in LegCo during the passage of the Ordinance in 1995. The decision made by the Council reflected the concern that in the absence of experience in enforcing anti-discrimination legislation in Hong Kong, it would be prudent to impose a cap on damages and not provide for reinstatement as an available remedy. The Equal Opportunities Commission has been empowered to monitor the working of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and to formulate proposals for its amendment if necessary.

Trade Union Federations (paragraph 37)

9. The Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57) confers the right to trade union membership on employees. The restriction on trade union federations to those engaged in the same trade is necessary to promote the formation of trade union federations which share common interests and have genuine concern for members’ welfare at work and to discourage the formation of federation of unions with widely diversified interests coming together for other reasons.

10. The consent of the Governor is required for affiliation with overseas organizations. This restriction is necessary to prevent local trade unions from being unduly influenced or controlled by overseas political bodies which would be detrimental to social stability and the trade union movement in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Government has been flexible in the exercise of its power and has never refused any application for overseas affiliation.

Review of government policy on unfair dismissal, minimum wages, paid weekly rest time, maximum hours of work and overtime pay rates (paragraph 38)

Unfair dismissal

11. Under existing legislation, there are already provisions to protect employees against dismissals on ground of union discrimination, pregnancy, an employee giving evidence in legal proceedings, sick leave and incapacity as a result of work-related injury. The Government has proposed legislative amendments to provide for further protection for employees against unreasonable dismissal and variation of the terms of employment contracts. We intend to submit a bill to this effect to LegCo shortly.

12. Our proposal will contain provisions for reinstatement with the consent of the employer and the employee. We hold the view that reinstatement will only work if both parties agree since it will be difficult for an employee to continue working for the same employer if their relationship has turned sour.

Minimum Wages and Overtime Pay Rates

13. The Government adopts a "minimum intervention" policy and firmly believes that wages should be determined entirely by the interaction of supply and demand in the labour market. This will ensure the most optimal and efficient allocation of resources which will yield the highest return for the economy as a whole. In the free market economy of Hong Kong, employers and employees are free to agree on the level of wages including the rates of overtime work and other conditions of employment. This policy has served Hong Kong well. It is neither in our interests nor is there a need to introduce minimum wages in Hong Kong.

Paid weekly rest time and working hours

14. The Women and Young Persons (Industry) Regulations made under the Employment Ordinance regulate the hours of work of female and the young (between 15 and 17 years of age) workers in industry. The Regulations restrict regular and overtime working hours and provide for compulsory rest days. The government is presently conducting a review of the Regulations in the light of current socio-economic needs to assess the necessity and feasibility of applying some of them to both sexes in certain occupations or economic sectors.

Comprehensive retirement protection (paragraph 39)

15. As we informed the Committee, we issued a public consultation paper on the proposed Old Age Pension Scheme (OPS) in July 1994. We said it would be implemented if public opinion was clearly behind the OPS as described in the paper. An analysis of the over 6000 written submissions received during the consultation period showed that there was no clear, unequivocal mandate to proceed with the OPS. Public opinion was at best divided.

16. There was however a clear demand for the introduction of a Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) system. This led to the enactment of the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Ordinance in August 1995, which is designed to provide certainty of retirement protection for the workforce.

17. We aim to produce the draft subsidiary legislation shortly. Once enacted, the MPF system will be brought into operation as soon as possible.

18. The existing occupational retirement schemes cover less than one-third of the workforce. The MPF Scheme will provide retirement protection certainty for the rest.

Eradication of cage-homes (paragraph 40)

19. It is not for the Government to dictate to people where they should or should not live, provided always that safety is maintained. It is better for us to acknowledge that bedspace apartments (or ‘cage-homes’ as referred to in the concluding observations) meet a certain part of the demand for low cost single-person accommodation in the urban area rather than to drive them underground where we shall have no control.

20. The licensing scheme for bedspace apartments is aimed at improving safety. Basic fire safety equipment has either already been installed by the operators themselves or else is being loaned to them by the Administration. By 1 July 1998, all bedspace apartments will either be licensed or the occupants rehoused. All unsafe bedspace apartments will be eradicated by then.

21. Single lodgers can apply for public housing through Waiting List. Lodgers over 60 can be recommended compassionate rehousing by the Social Welfare Department on medical or social grounds. They are also given priority for public rental housing allocation under the various Priority Schemes for elderly persons operated by the Housing Authority.

22. We remain committed to the rehousing programmes for displaced lodgers. Two major projects are now underway to provide alternative accommodation for them. The singleton hostel at Shun Ning Road, Shamshuipo, is scheduled for completion by mid 1998. Planning of another hostel at High Street, Central and Western District, is actively in progress and is scheduled for completion in the year 2000.

Reviewing the seven-year residence rule applied in providing public housing to immigrant families (paragraph 41)

23. Permanent residents living in Hong Kong for seven years or more are eligible for public rental housing. The rationale behind this policy is that scarce resources should be allocated to meet the needs of permanent residents first. Given the limitations on housing resources and the pressing demand from permanent residents, it is not appropriate to change the existing policy.

Inquiry regarding three Vietnamese migrants who were denied medical and dental treatment (paragraph 42)

24. The allegation that any Vietnamese migrants in Hong Kong have been refused medical treatment unless they volunteer to return to Vietnam is unfounded. Our policy is clear - medical services are provided to all Vietnamese migrants in camps should they need them. We have investigated the three cases raised by the Committee and found no substance to the allegations. We have provided a draft response to the UK Government for submission to the Committee.

Protection of persons with mental illness and disability (paragraph 43)

25. We recognize that there is a need for residential services for ex-mentally ill persons who are homeless or with little family support, or who need to learn to adjust to living independently in the community, as well as for those chronic mental patients who do not require active medical treatment but only minimal nursing care.

26. Our objective is to provide an environment with appropriate support to assist ex-mentally ill persons to live independently in the community.

27. As at the end of October 1996, we have 937 half way house plans, 570 long stay care home places and 20 places of supported hostels.

28. Apart from residential care, day services are provided to improve the social adjustment capabilities of the ex-mentally ill persons. The aim is to help them develop their social and vocational skills to the fullest extent. As at the end of October 1996, there were 180 activity centre places and 800 social club places for discharged mental patients.

29. On the public education side, we have spent HK$39 million since 1994 on public education activities on rehabilitation. Understanding and acceptance of people with a disability, in particular, the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, was selected as the main theme of public education activities in the past two years.

30. For the next year, we will look to convince people in Hong Kong that they should not only be willing but also proud of accepting people with a disability, including mentally ill and mentally handicapped people.

Integration of children of immigrant families from China into the general education system (paragraph 44)

31. Our aim is to ensure that immigrant children are given timely and appropriate assistance so that they can enter school classes suitable for their age group, and to help them integrate into the local education system.

32. A Central Placement Unit was set up in February 1996 to handle difficult cases of placement of children. Special induction and remedial English programmes are in place to help new immigrant children.

33. We will continue to build additional schools and strengthen placement assistance as necessary. We will continue to provide induction and English courses for these children to help them integrate into the local education system. We are also making plans to enhance educational support services for new immigrant children.

Circulation of the concluding observations (paragraph 45)

34. All relevant branches of the Administration as well as the Judiciary have received copies of the Committee’s concluding observations. Copies are also made available to the public at the marketing office of the Information Services Department.

January 1997

Last Updated on 19 August 1998