Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)448
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/MP

Panel on Manpower

Minutes of meeting held on Thursday, 9 October 1997, at 10:20 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon CHAN Kam-lam (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members attending :

Hon Henry WU
Hon IP Kwok-him

Members absent :

Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public officers attending :

Mr Joseph W P WONG
Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Matthew CHEUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Commissioner for Labour

Mr Alfred W K CHAN
Deputy Commissioner for Labour

Mr MAK Hung-kae
Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Occupational Safety)

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Miss Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

I.Briefing by the Administration on the Chief Executive's Policy Address 1997
(Speaking note tabled and circulated to all Members immediately after the meeting by general despatch)

1.The Secretary for Education and Manpower (SEM) highlighted salient points in his speaking note and briefed members on his major programme areas related to employment.

The need for importation of labour

2.Some members opined that the Administration had implicitly suggested that there was a need to import labour so as to meet the manpower demand arising from various infrastructural projects outlined in the Chief Executive's Policy Address. They pointed out that as an unemployment rate of 2.2% still prevailed, such a move would adversely affect local workers' employment opportunities. In their view, the unemployment problem could even be worse as the unemployment figure had not taken into account under-employed persons.

3.In reply, SEM pointed out that due to job movements and the continual supply of entrants into the job market, a certain percentage of unemployed population was inevitable. He commented that an unemployment rate of 2.2% was already very low by international comparison.

4.Some members maintained that labour importation should not be resorted to too lightly, lest it would become a convenient means for employers to avoid employing local workers. They also enquired on details of the review of the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS).

5.On the SLS, SEM reminded members that the Administration had pledged to conduct a review of the Scheme when 2,000 visa applications had been approved. He pointed out that while the Administration would always adhere to the principle of giving priority to local workers, there was a need to improve the SLS to give Hong Kong's economy the flexibility necessary to maintain its competitiveness. Details of the recommendations to improve the SLS would be announced upon completion of the review. SEM further assured members that the Administration would do its best to strike the right balance between the well-being of local workers and the needs of Hong Kong's economy.

6.A few members nevertheless shared the Administration's views and pointed out that as long as priority was given to local workers and there was a proven need, permission should be given to import labour to help sustain Hong Kong's economic competitiveness. A member further proposed that consideration should be given to importing workers in a batch for a specified period of time as an interim arrangement to alleviate the acute shortage in specific industries.

7.As regards further details of the perceived labour shortage and manpower needs, SEM advised that two working groups comprising representatives from the Administration, training bodies, employers and employees had been formed to review the manpower and training needs of the construction industry and the textiles and clothing industry. In the light of their deliberations, the Administration would consider taking specific measures to ensure an adequate supply of labour over the next decade.

8.Some members opined that an overall review of manpower requirements in Hong Kong should be conducted in lieu of a piecemeal approach targeted at only a few industries. In this regard, SEM informed members that the Administration could estimate the overall manpower requirements of different industries on the basis of projects planned and data collected from the Census and Bi-census. In addition, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) also conducted manpower surveys on specific trades/industries on an ad-hoc basis. However, as the labour demand in different sectors varied from time to time, due to new supply from graduates and labour redistribution, it was more important to devise a flexible and robust mechanism to respond to the changing needs of the market. He further stressed the importance for the Administration to identify trades/industries with special manpower needs and formulate suitable strategies to address such needs.

9.In response to members' request for a timetable of the aforesaid manpower reviews and the review of the SLS, SEM reported that they would be completed by the end of 1997. He assured members that the Administration would take into consideration members' views and report the outcome of the reviews and recommendations on the way forward to the Panel in due course.

Employment opportunities of local workers

10.On safeguarding local workers' employment opportunities and wage levels, some members requested information on specific measures proposed by the Administration. As a further safeguard, a member opined that enforcement efforts should be stepped up to clamp down on illegal employment and that employers who abused the labour importation schemes should be blacklisted.

11.While agreeing to consider more incentives to encourage employers to recruit local workers, SEM reiterated the following cardinal policy principles for the labour importation schemes-

  1. Local workers would be given priority in filling job vacancies available in the job market; and

  2. only employers who had gone through the requisite procedures to recruit local workers to fill their job vacancies but whose efforts had been in vain were allowed to import workers for such vacancies.

Training and retraining of employees

12.Some members urged the Administration to assist workers displaced as a result of economic restructuring and to provide training and retraining services in anticipation of future needs of the economy before resorting to labour importation. In addressing their concern, SEM reiterated the Administration's long-term goal of maintaining a quality workforce well-equipped to meet the demands of the economy. Members noted that suitable retraining courses were available through the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) for the unemployed and the displaced workers to enable them to re-enter the labour market. They also noted that the ERB would step up publicity of the courses to keep workers informed of the different training opportunities, and would make efforts to provide training for the unemployed aged 30 or above who had received no more than lower secondary education and for the employed who needed basic skills to sustain their employability. SEM further assured members that the working groups formed to study the manpower needs of the construction industry and the textiles and clothing industry were already setting out plans for the expansion of training and retraining programmes.

13.SEM also confirmed that a review of the role and future direction of the VTC and the ERB to improve their flexibility was completed and the bodies were adjusting the number of student places, and the type and content of courses according to the needs of the economy.

14.Referring to the overall placement rate of about 70% for retrainees who had completed full-time training courses, some members stressed the need to boost placement and to improve the cost-effectiveness of the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS) to ensure proper utilisation of resources. A member further suggested that the Administration should also examine the impact of other social factors on the effect of retraining so that improved social benefits such as payments from the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme would not become a disincentive for recipients to undergo retraining and take up employment.

15.SEM said that a placement rate of 70% was considered acceptable and that there was a certain percentage of wastage among retrainees, which the ERB would seek to address. In this regard, a member pointed out the need to revise the employment terms of construction workers, notably to convert them from daily paid to monthly paid workers, so as to reduce wastage and turnover.

16.On members' comments that there should be better links between the employment assistance offered by the Labour Department and the provision of retraining by the ERB, SEM and the Commissioner for Labour (C for L) explained that there was a close working relationship between the Labour Department and the ERB. For example, job-seekers might be referred to enrol for retraining courses and the C for L was a member of the ERB. There were also regular meetings between the ERB and the Labour Department to ensure smooth co-operation and co-ordination of work. C for L also advised that under the Labour Department's Job Matching Programme, arrangements for tailor-made retraining programmes by the ERB would be made where appropriate.

II.Any other business

17.Members agreed to continue discussion on the Policy Address at the October meeting of the Panel scheduled for 27 October 1997.

18.The meeting ended at 11:40 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
12 November 1997