Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)467
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/MP

Panel on Manpower

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 27 October 1997, at 2:30 p.m. 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 HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Members attending :


Members absent :

Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Public officers attending :

Mr Matthew CHEUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Ms Esther LEUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (4)

Mr Herman CHO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (7)

Mr Alfred CHAN
Deputy Commissioner for Labour

Mr TSE Ming-sing
Acting Assistant Commissioner for Labour

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)343)

1.The minutes of the meeting held on 30 September 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date and items for discussion for next meeting

2.Members agreed that they would notify the Chairman or the Clerk after the meeting of any proposed discussion items.

III.Information papers issued since last meeting
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)283 and 392)

3.Members noted that two information papers had been issued for their general information since the last meeting.

IV.Major programme areas on employment in the 1997 Policy Address
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)368(01) and 376(01))

Vocational training and employees retraining

4.In reply to questions on the enrolment rate of vocational training and employees retraining courses, the Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS/E&M) said that while courses provided by the Vocational Training Council and under the Employees Retraining Scheme were generally well received, enrolment for courses in plastering and bricklaying organised by the Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA) was relatively low when compared with steel fixing and formwork carpentry courses which were over-subscribed. He called on trade unions and the mass media to assist in promoting these courses so that sufficient skilled workers could be trained up for the construction industry to meet the future demand arising from expanded housing and infrastructure programmes over the following ten years. He further emphasised that CITA would ensure that training would be provided within 60 days for displaced workers who wished to join the construction industry. Moreover, CITA trainees could receive a monthly training allowance of $4,000 whilst receiving classroom training. They would also be placed in jobs upon completion of the relevant courses.

5.Members opined that publicity for the under-subscribed courses should be stepped up to boost their enrolment rate. A member further proposed the staging of promotion campaigns in public estates as in the case of recruitment of local workers for the New Airport and Related Projects.

6.Some members attributed the unsatisfactory response to plastering and bricklaying courses to the relatively unattractive pay and uncertain prospects of the two trades. DS/E&M reckoned that the nature of work of construction workers, which essentially involved outdoor manual labour with certain risks, might not be attractive to young job-seekers. Nevertheless, with improvements in safety legislation and a booming construction industry in the next decade or so, he anticipated that more young people would be interested in joining the industry.

7.Noting the high wastage and turnover rate of trainees in the construction industry, some members opined that apart from improving the working conditions of the industry to retain trained construction workers, there might be a need to revise their employment terms, notably to convert them from daily-rated to monthly-rated workers, or to employ them on contract terms.

8.DS/E&M pointed out that the above proposals would bring about significant changes to the industry and referring to the experience in Singapore, cautioned that there would be considerable difficulties in converting construction workers from daily-rated to monthly-rated workers. He explained that the provision of work in the construction industry was contingent on factors such as weather conditions, the progress of preceding works, as well as the duration of the project contract. Hence, he stressed the need for the industry to have reasonable flexibility in the hiring of workers. DS/E&M nevertheless assured members that the working group formed to review the manpower and training needs of the construction industry (the Working Group) would seek to address the concerns raised by members.

9.A member shared DS/E&M's views and emphasised that the haphazard nature of construction projects required the maintenance of a flexible employment system to reduce labour costs. He added that the wastage and turnover rate of construction workers was high worldwide.

10.Referring to a member's proposal to use the Seamen's Training Centre for training of construction workers, DS/E&M explained that the Centre was presently used for safety training of container handling workers.

11.As regards the provision of retraining to the unemployed with no more than lower secondary education and aged 30 or above, a member enquired whether the same criteria would also apply to new arrivals from the Mainland, DS/E&M confirmed that the admission criteria for retraining would be relaxed in deserving cases of new arrivals. Members also noted that new arrivals in general found the Job Search Skills Course specifically designed for them useful.

12.On the placement rate of retrainees, DS/E&M explained that it would not be possible to achieve a 100% placement rate as there was also a need to respect individual retrainees' freedom of choice in employment. He considered the overall placement rate of 70% satisfactory. In this connection, members noted that for new arrivals, a higher placement rate of 80% had been achieved.

Importation of labour

13.Some members were concerned whether all trainees from the CITA would be offered jobs in the construction industry so that there was no need to import construction workers. In reply, DS/E&M advised that the Working Group had discussed the issue in depth and secured placement support from employer and contractor associations. As for the need to import labour, he reiterated the following cardinal policy principles for labour importation -

  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 were genuinely unable to do so would be allowed to import workers for such vacancies.

14.Mr HO Sai-chu informed the meeting that the construction industry had always given priority to local workers in filling job vacancies and would only import labour as a last resort. He further clarified that the industry would like to be assured of an adequate and sustained supply of labour and urged the Administration to address the manpower needs of the construction industry from a long-term and macro point of view.

Employment services

15.Some members proposed that the employment services provided by the Labour Department (LD) should be computerised so that information on job-seekers and job vacancies could be directly retrieved by employers and job seekers. They opined that such an arrangement would expedite the job matching process and relieve the LD's processing work. To observe the requirements of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, they proposed that the personal particulars of the job seeker could be concealed when his resume was displayed and a reference number would be assigned to each applicant's profile on computer.

16.The Deputy Commissioner for Labour (DC for L) informed members that to enhance the efficiency of LD's employment services, a total of $20 million had been sought from the Finance Committee (FC) to computerise and link up all nine offices of the Local Employment Service (LES) and the Job Matching Centre by 1 January 1998. Part of the computerisation plan would be to disseminate job information and enable employers to input job vacancy details for LD's use on the Internet. He further advised members that equipment installation and staff training were under way. As such, the Administration would have to study members' proposal in detail, having regard to technical viability and the need to abide by confidentiality rules.

In response to a member's enquiry on the Administration's reasons for not organizing job bazaars in Tuen Mun, where the need for employment services was great, DC for L stated that due to the relatively faraway location of Tuen Mun, the Administration had not been able to secure sufficient participation from employers in conducting on-the-spot registration and job interview. Nevertheless, he undertook to explore the feasibility of organizing job bazaars again in Tuen Mun and meanwhile, advised members that there was a permanent LES office in Tuen Mun.

17.Concerning the placement service for new arrivals, the Administration highlighted the range of services provided by the employment and guidance centre for new arrivals in Shaukeiwan established since 18 September 1997. A total of 12 briefings on practices and conditions of work in Hong Kong had been organised and eight more would be held in November. In addition, there was plan to set up one more similar employment and guidance centre in Kowloon in 1998.

Labour relations

18.Regarding the proposed team of 11 officers to be set up within the LD to strengthen promotion of good communication between employers and employees as well as direct and voluntary consultation at the enterprise level, the Administration said that subject to the funding request being approved by the FC, the special team would be set up and commence work on 1 April 1998. Members also noted that one of the major activities of the special team was to draw up codes of practices/guidebooks on voluntary consultation and effective communication and that in preparing these codes, the Administration would consult practitioners through the Personnel Managers Club. In this connection, a member highlighted the need to move away from traditional " personnel management " to " human resources management " , the latter being more dynamic and people-oriented.

19.On the restructuring of the Registry of Trade Unions to become part of the LD, Mr Lee Kai-ming cast doubt on the efficiency resulting from such a move and cited as an example the non-availability of the Registry's 1996 Annual Report till present. In response, DC for L agreed to look into the matter and provide a written explanation to the Panel after the meeting. Nevertheless, he pointed out that in compiling the report, the Administration had to rely on the timely provision of information by registered trade unions. He further emphasised that by streamlining work procedures and improving communication between the LD and the Registry, efficiency had in fact been enhanced.

Employees' rights and benefits

20.In reply to members, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (4) clarified that funding would be sought from the FC to implement the Pneumoconiosis Ex-Gratia Scheme to award monthly ex-gratia payments to persons who were diagnosed before 1981 to be suffering from pneumoconiosis with a view to aligning its benefit items more closely with those already being provided to pneumoconiotics diagnosed to be suffering from the same disease after 1981 under the Pneumoconiosis (Compensation) Ordinance.

21.Addressing members' concerns about excessively long working hours in some occupations such as tram drivers who did not even have lunch breaks, DS/E&M said that a review of the working hours of Hong Kong's workforce was under way and was expected to be completed by the end of 1997. He assured members that their concerns would be duly addressed in the review.

22.DS/E&M also confirmed that the Administration would review the statutory provisions on sickness benefits and the rate of sickness allowance would be one of the issues to be examined.

Occupational safety and health

23.DS/E&M informed members that apart from the proposed increase of 0.8% to the rate of levy payable by employers to the Occupational Deafness Compensation Scheme under the Occupational Deafness (Compensation) (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 1997, the Administration would also propose to increase the rate of levy for financing the Occupational Safety and Health Council by 1% to enable the Council to sustain an expanded programme of activities to promote new safety legislation and to provide relevant safety training in the non-industrial sector. Members noted that as a result of the above increases, the overall rate of the levy would be increased from 3.5% to 5.3% of the insurance premia of employees' compensation insurance policies.

24.Responding to concerns about the effectiveness of the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance, DS/E&M explained that it might be too early to assess the effectiveness of the Ordinance because it was only enacted in May 1997 and its Regulation, in June 1997. Moreover, there was a grace period for compliance with the new statutory requirements. Nevertheless, he agreed to provide statistics on industrial accidents resulting in death/injuries since the enactment of the Ordinance in May 1997.

25.At members' request, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (7) and the Acting Assistant Commissioner for Labour provided additional information on proposed enhancement of safety protection to workers working in confined spaces and at heights. Members noted that the Administration would introduce amendments to the existing subsidiary regulations to require the employer to, inter alia, assess the potential risks at work and make sure that the workers concerned were equipped with the necessary training and safety equipment before allowing them to work in confined spaces. Members further noted that the amendments would also seek to provide a clearer definition of " confined spaces'. As for working at heights, the employer would be required to provide the best possible safety protection to workers.

26.On a member's concern about enhancing workers' awareness of occupational safety, the Administration pointed out that the proposed mandatory safety training for construction and container handling workers would be useful and highlighted the importance of education and a safety culture in the long run. They also assured members that since signing the Occupational Safety Charter, the Administration had launched an intensive publicity programme to promote safety in the workplace with the active involvement of employers, employees and the Government.

27.The meeting ended at 4:20 p.m.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
10 November 1997