LegCo Paper No. CB(1)884/96-97
Clerk in attendance :
- Miss Polly YEUNG
- Chief Assistant Secretary(1)3
Staff in attendance :
- Ms Connie SZE-TO
- Senior Assistant Secretary(1)5
I Meeting with non-government organisations (NGO)
(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)632/96-97 & CB(1)666/96-97. Written submissions of some NGOs tabled at the meeting.)
Opening remarks by the Chairman
The Chairman welcomed representatives of the NGOs to the meeting and briefed them on the procedures of deliberation. He also reminded the NGOs that they would not be covered by the protection and immunity provided by the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance (Cap. 382) as the meeting had not been convened pursuant to the said Ordinance.
Views of deputations
2. A total of 13 NGOs presented views on the review of the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS) and their major concerns were summarised as follows-
- Retraining should not be regarded as an immediate solution to the unemployment problem. The majority of NGOs considered the recommendation of a performance-based funding system unfair since successful placement was contingent on many factors which might not be within the control of the retraining bodies. The proposed system would force NGOs to provide market-oriented courses only. As a result, needs of low employability workers would be neglected.
- The existing mode of operation under which retraining services were delivered by a range of training bodies should be maintained as the latter had developed the necessary expertise and facilities to meet the needs of the retrainees.
- There was grave reservation on the recommendation that all skills upgrading courses for employed persons and training for the disabled and elderly should be provided by the Vocational Training Council (VTC). Doubt was cast on whether VTC was well-placed to take up this role, especially the provision of retraining for the disabled and elderly.
- To cater for deserving cases, greater flexibility should be exercised on the eligibility criteria of "age" and "academic qualifications". The proposal to extend ERS to cover new immigrants was supported. The duration of the retraining courses should also be flexible.
- Objection was raised to the recommendation to pay a weekly allowance of $500 for travelling and meal expenses in lieu of the existing $1,000. It was considered that the existing allowance should be retained both as an incentive and a subsidy to the retrainees to cover their basic living needs during the period of training. There already existed safeguards to prevent abuse of the arrangement.
3. In reply to a members enquiry on the cost-effectiveness of the retraining programmes in general, Mr TSANG Wing-keung of the Hong Kong Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA) pointed out that a placement rate of over 70% was achieved by the majority of the retraining programmes and the retrainees were able to earn comparable wages as their counterparts in the occupation. Mrs CHEUNG -Ang Siew-mei of the Christian Action (CA) also cited the example that as a result of retraining, female employees over 30 years of age were employed by a retail chain as sales ladies and that certain tailor-made programmes had a placement rate of over 70%. Representatives of the Caritas Adult & Higher Education Service (the Caritas), Heung To College of Professional Studies and YWCA also raised concerns that since VTC would become the sole course-provider in future, there might be difficulty in ensuring the cost-effectiveness of the retraining programmes in the absence of any competition. Most of the NGOs indicated that they considered the present arrangements satisfactory while the rationale underlying the proposed re-allocation of training functions between ERB and VTC was unacceptable.
4. In reply to members concerns about performance indicators and quality assurance of the retaining programmes, representatives of the Employment Service of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (ES/HKCSS), Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service, Industrial Evangelistic Fellowship, Hong Kong College of Technology, YWCA and CA made the following points-
- There was support in principle that performance indicators were necessary but placement rate should not be taken as the sole indicator in determining funding.
- The performance indicator(s) should be devised in consultation with all the stakeholders, i.e. the training bodies, ERB, retrainees and employers. In determining possible indicater(s), other components such as course contents should also be considered.
- Some NGOs had embarked on some form of accreditation and vetting to ensure that their retraining courses were of a reasonable quality.
5. Mr SZETO Wah called upon the NGOs to further discuss among themselves on possible ways to improve and maintain quality training. He also urged the Administration and ERB to critically evaluate the effectiveness of the training currently provided and to work more closely with the training bodies in setting performance targets and monitoring performance.
6. Responding to Mr James TIENs enquiry on the availability of retraining services to Chinese new immigrants, Ms CHUNG Lick-lai of ES/HKCSS informed members that the organisation was running a programme on a trail basis for new immigrants which also comprised training on adaptation skills. Mrs Amy CHAN of the Caritas said that her organisation had submitted programme proposals to ERB.
7. On the eligibility for retraining allowance under ERS and training allowance payable by the Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA), Mr Albert TONG explained that a monthly allowance of $3,300 was payable by the CITA to persons attending its full-time courses. Where a person also met the criteria for the payment of retraining allowance under ERS, he could opt for the latter allowance.
(Written submissions of the Employers Federation of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce were circulated after the meeting vide LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)736/96-97 and CB(1)811/96-97)
Views of deputations
8. Eleven NGOs presented views on the review of the ERS as follows-
- While agreeing that ERS should be extended to cover new immigrants, the NGOs generally echoed the views the eligibility criteria of "age" and "academic qualifications" should be applied with flexibility.
- Some NGOs concurred that the existing weekly allowance was already very modest and should not be reduced.
- The Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth, Hong Kong Blind Union, Richmond Fellowship of Hong Kong, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Kwai Chung Hospital expressed grave reservation about the recommendation that VTC should take over the provision of training service for the disabled in lieu of the existing training bodies which possessed better knowledge of the special needs of their clients and were capable of providing counselling and support services.
- As existing training courses funded by ERB were usually provided free of charge, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC), Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and the Industrial Relations Institute expressed concerns about the possible charging effects on trainees when the VTC sought to recover costs in its provision of skills upgrading courses for the employed in-service personnel.
- Most of the NGOs were opposed to the proposed performance-based and placement-tied funding system and maintained that the major role of the retraining bodies was to provide training which job placement should more appropriately be entrusted to the ERB and Labour Department. HKGCC suggested that in order to improve placement, ERB should provide tests and counselling to identify the capability and potentials of the retrainees prior to their training so as to facilitate better job matching in future.
- The Employers Federation of Hong Kong (EFHK) was against the abolition of the existing On-the-Job Programme as it had been proved to be a very cost-effective mode of retraining.
- On the funding of ERB, HKGCC was of the view that ERB should be entirely funded by the Government.
9. Commenting on placement results achieved by the training bodies, Mr K S WAN of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Electrical Engineering and Appliances Trade Workers Union pointed out that retraining courses for engineering technicians provided by the Union had achieved a placement rate of over 80%. Nevertheless, the Union was against using placement result as the sole performance indicator. He cited an example where the trainees of an engineering technician course provided at the request of ERB and the Hong Kong Airport Authority had not been offered employment in ACP project and cautioned that successful placement was contingent on many other factors. Representatives of the rehabilitation bodies also pointed out that the proposed placement-tied funding system was unfair to them as clients, who were mainly physically and mentally disabled persons, would usually encounter more difficulty in placement than their able-bodied counterparts. They considered that the proposal had failed to recognise NGOs efforts in assisting their trainees to re-enter the workforce.
10. Responding to members enquiry about their views on the proposed demarcation of responsibilities between ERB and VTC, EFHK considered that if VTC was to take up the full responsibility of providing skills upgrading courses, a critical review on its role in providing vocational training should be made. The HKGCC expressed concern about the demands of making VTC the sole provider of skills-upgrading courses for in-service personnel as this would pre-empt healthy competition which could enhance cost-effectiveness and quality of courses. The Chamber also considered that while VTC was more competent in practical skills upgrading, employees retraining should also include other job skills.
11. The rehabilitation bodies were concerned that the close working relationship between ERB and the training bodies would be lost if VTC was to take over the role of providing training services for disabled persons. There was worry that funding for these training bodies would cease since VTC would be a course provider itself instead of acting as a contracting and funding agency as the ERB.
12 In reply to Mr LEE Cheuk-yan, Ms May CHOW of EFHK clarified that the Federation considered that the proposed weekly allowance of $500 was acceptable but that there also should be a mechanism to assess the special needs of individual retrainees and the maximum weekly allowance of $1,000 should be payable in deserving cases.
13. The NGOs present at the meeting shared the view that the Administration had failed to formulate a comprehensive and forward-looking policy on manpower planning in Hong Kong. The respective roles of ERB and VTC had not been clearly defined and the proposed division of work between the two institutions had not been properly addressed in the review. The NGOs also expressed dissatisfaction that there had not been any prior consultation on the proposed changes.
14. As the NGOs had only obtained the public consultation paper, the Chairman requested the Administration to provide the NGOs with copies of the full consultancy report and/or the executive summary for reference as well. The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower undertook to make the necessary arrangement.
15.Summing up the discussion, the Chairman thanked the representatives of the 24 NGOs for attending the meeting. He also said that the Panel would continue to discuss the subject at its next meeting to be held on 20 January 1997 and the NGOs were welcome to attend the meeting as observers.
II Any other business
16. The meeting ended at 5:30 p.m.
Legislative Council Secretariat
11 February 1997
Last Updated on 21 August 1998