LegCo Paper No. CB(1)170/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/MP/1

LegCo Panel on Manpower

Minutes of meeting
held on Tuesday, 8 October 1996 at 10:15 a.m.
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
    Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
    Hon LEE Kai-ming
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung

Members absent :

    Hon LAU Chin-shek (Chairman)
    Hon NGAI Shiu-kit, OBE, JP
    Hon SZETO Wah
    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
    Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon MOK Ying-fan
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing

Members attending :

    Hon Paul CHENG Ming-fun
    Hon IP Kwok-him

Public officers attending :

Mr Joseph W P WONG, JP
Secretary for Education and Manpower
Mr Joshua C K LAW, JP
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
Miss J A Willis, JP
Commissioner for Labour
Assistant Commissioner for Labour
Mr Herman CHO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Miss Esther LEUNG
Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Miss Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1
Ms Connie SZE-TO
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)5

I. Briefing by the Administration on the Governor’s Policy Address

(Speaking note of the Secretary for Education and Manpower issued after the meeting vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)91/96-97)

As the Chairman was away from Hong Kong, Hon CHAN Yuen-han took the chair of the meeting.

2. Upon invitation, Mr Joseph W P WONG briefed members on the Government’s policy commitments in the main programme areas on employment as outlined in his speaking note.

3. Members raised questions on a number of issues and their deliberations were summarised below.

Helping local workers to find jobs

Employment services

4. Noting that only 12,409 out of a total of 70,003 registrants had been placed by the nine Local Employment Services (LES) offices of the Labour Department (LD) in the first half of 1996, some members opined that the assistance offered to job-seekers was inadequate and cast doubt on the effectiveness of recent measures in tackling the unemployment problem. In this connection, a member suggested that the LD should launch more out-reaching placement services in locations such as public housing estates where there were a large number of job-seekers, and to expedite the transmission of job information to the concerned trade unions for timely dissemination to their members.

5. Responding to members’ concerns, Mr WONG and Miss J A Willis made the following points :

  1. The series of measures undertaken by the Government to tackle unemployment had helped bring about a fall in unemployment rate from the peak of 3.6% in November 1995 to the present level of 2.8%.
  2. The LES had been organising out-reaching activities such as job bazaars in different locations to offer on-the-spot assistance to job-seekers. At present, information on job vacancies was circulated among all nine offices of the LES and to further improve efficiency, all LES offices and the Job Matching Centre (JMC) would be fully computerised in early 1998. Besides, the LD was actively considering ways to speed up the collection and dissemination of job information which included uploading information onto the Internet and setting up computer links to enable employers to send information on job vacancies to the LES and JMC.

6. Whilst there were repeated urges by contractors to import foreign labour to work in the Airport Core Programme (ACP) projects, the Chairman and some members considered that the placement service of the LD’s Special Placement Team (SPT) and the ACP Job Centre had not been successful in helping local workers to find jobs in the ACP projects. The Chairman further urged the Administration to critically review the cost- effectiveness of the ACP Job Centre.

7. In addressing members’ concern about importation of labour for ACP projects, Mr WONG reiterated the Administration’s policy that priority should be given to local workers in filling ACP jobs vacancies and contractors would only be allowed to import workers when they could prove to the satisfaction of the Administration that they were genuinely unable to fill certain vacancies with local workers. In explaining the LD’s efforts in helping local workers to seek employment in the ACP projects, Miss Willis made the following points :

  1. At present, there were about 5,000 imported workers employed in the ACP projects which made up only 20% of the total workforce. This number was much lower than the initial forecast and thus reflected that the mechanism to ensure job opportunities for local workers had been working effectively.
  2. A total of some 5,900 construction workers had sought placement with the SPT as at September 1996. Out of the 9,000 job referrals made, 874 workers were placed. During the period 15.1.96 to 31.8.96, 443 workers secured jobs out of a total of some 2,300 registrants at the ACP Job Centre. Although the placement rates were lower than the average rate of 70% achieved by Job Matching Programme, it should be noted that resourceful workers could seek jobs in the ACP projects direct without approaching the STP or ACP Job Centre. The fact that some registrants were not qualified for the jobs, inavailability of the vacancies sought and job offers being declined were other factors which might have resulted in relatively low placement rates.
  3. Tripartite meetings among the LD, ACP contractors and concerned labour unions were held from time to time to discuss matters of mutual concerns and disseminate job information and to facilitate the recruitment of local workers by ACP contractors.

Vocational training and retraining

8. Responding to a member’s enquiry on the review of the New Technology Training Scheme administered by the Vocational Training Council, Mr WONG advised that the said review was underway and would cover all key aspects including the scope of the Scheme and the level of financial assistance from the Government. He undertook to provide more details on the review when such were available in due course.

9. While expressing support for the government’s proposal to extend the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS) to Chinese new immigrants, some members urged the Administration to provide the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) with a stable source of funding so that it could undertake the new initiative without compromising the retraining services to local workers.

10. In response, Mr WONG advised that the Administration had injected an additional $300 million into the reserve of the ERB and the latter was operating in a healthy financial condition. He assured members that the extension of the scope of ERS to cover new immigrants would not be done at the expense of the retraining for local workers. The comprehensive consultancy report on the ERS, which would be completed soon, would address inter alia the question of providing sufficient resources to the ERB.

Improvements to employees’ benefits

Impact of legislation enacted to improve employees’ benefits

11. Hon James TIEN commented that employers were very concerned about the cost impact of the large number of bills to be introduced in the 1996-97 session seeking to improve labour benefits. Referring to a study conducted by some employers which revealed that labour legislation enacted over the past two years had increased the labour costs by 15%, Mr TIEN suggested that the Administration should undertake an independent study to assess the cost implications of the bills to be introduced in the current session, as well as those arising from labour legislation enacted in the past two years. The study would serve as an objective and useful reference for LegCo Members in considering the forthcoming bills. While supporting the suggestion, Hon LEE Cheuk-yan urged that the study should also include the growth in labour productivity. He was of the view that employers could afford the improvement in employees’ benefits if the latter were conducive to an increase in productivity. Moreover, he suggested that a comparison of labour benefits with neighbouring Asian countries should also be made.

12, In response, Mr WONG advised that the Administration was already undertaking a study on the impact of labour legislation enacted in the past two years on the operating costs of employers. The findings of the study would be presented to the Manpower Panel in due course. While the Administration would consider the suggestions of Mr TIEN and Mr LEE in the present study, Mr WONG reminded members that information on the economic implications of individual bills was also included in the relevant LegCo Briefs issued to Members.


13. Regarding the principles underlying the enhancement of labour benefits, Mr WONG explained that the present tripartite machinery of the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) was working effectively. The consensus reached at the LAB would normally form the basis of legislative improvements and the Administration was aware of the need to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of employees and those of employers. In this connection, Mr WONG appealed to members to seriously consider and support legislative proposals already agreed by the LAB and to refrain from proposing member’s bills the subjects of which had not been considered by the LAB. In response, Mr LEE Cheuk-yan remarked that although employee representatives were in a position to press for improvement in labour benefits at the LAB, at times, reasonable proposals had been vetoed by employer representatives and the Administration. Hence, there was still a need for member’s bills to improve statutory protection for workers.

Wages for the workfore

14. Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung remarked that pay rise had been constrained in the past few years and there was even a reduction in real wages for those working in industries and trades affected by the restructuring of the economy, thus resulting in a general decline in the living standard of workers. He was dissatisfied with the lack of action on the part of the Administration to legislate for collective bargaining to provide employees with greater bargaining power and where necessary, to prescribe minimum wages for industries and trades pursuant to the Trade Boards Ordinance (TBO) enacted in the 1940s.

15. On the question of collective bargaining, Miss Willis said that the Manpower Panel had deliberated on the issue in the 1995-96 session and the Administration still maintained the view that for the time being, it was not appropriate to legislate for compulsory collective bargaining in Hong Kong. She pointed out that trade union participation rate was low and there were other technical issues which would require very careful consideration. At present, voluntary collective bargaining was in place in certain establishments and the prevalent practice of voluntary and direct negotiation between employers and employees was working to the benefit of all parties concerned.

16. Concerning the imposition of minimum wages for trades and industries, Mr WONG reiterated the Administration’s policy that wages should be determined by market forces and it would be inappropriate for the Administration to intervene. Nevertheless, the Administration was committed to strengthening employment assistance and retraining services for unemployed and displaced workers.

17. In response to the Administration’s confirmation that the TBO had never been invoked since its enactment, the Chairman directed that issues related to the TBO would be followed up by the Manpower Panel at its future meetings and requested the Administration to provide further information on the subject.


Promotion of industrial safety

18. Responding to a member’s enquiries on the possibility of mandatory basic safety training for all construction workers prior to their employment, Mr WONG advised that the Administration had been working in collaboration with the Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA) in providing basic safety training for construction workers engaged in public works and Housing Authority projects. He shared the member’s concern that in the long run, workers engaged in construction and other high-risk industries should be required to undergo pre-service and in-service safety training. The Administration would actively consider including provisions to this effect in the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill to be introduced in the 1996-97 session and the CITA and construction industry would be duly consulted on the proposals.

Legislative programme

19. Noting that that Administration had planned to introduce some ten bills on employment and industrial safety in the 1996-97 session, a member expressed concern that there would not be sufficient time to scrutinise these bills for enactment before the end of the current session and enquired on the Administration’s proposed action on outstanding bills. In reply, Mr WONG refrained from speculating on a hypothetical scenario and reiterated the Administration’s request for expeditious scrutiny and early passage of the bills by LegCo.

20. The meeting ended at 11:40 a.m.

Legislative Council Secretariat
23 October 1996

Last Updated on 21 August 1998