Report of the Panel on Manpower
for submission to the Provisional Legislative Council
This report gives an account of the work of the Panel on Manpower during the term of the Provisional Legislative Council. It will be tabled at the meeting of the Council on 8 April 1998 in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Council.
2.The Panel was formed by resolution of the Council on 16 July 1997 for the purpose of monitoring and examining Government policies and issues of public concern relating to labour and manpower planning matters. The terms of reference of the Panel are at Appendix I.
3.The Panel comprises 20 members. Hon CHAN Kam-lam and Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun were elected Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Panel respectively. A membership list of the Panel is at Appendix II.
4.The Panel monitored closely the development of labour legislation. In the wake of the suspension in July 1997 of the operation of three labour-related Ordinances which provided for employees' right to collective bargaining, compulsory reinstatement of employees and relaxation of restrictions on trade union activities, the Panel met with the Administration to examine the impact of the suspension on the statutory rights and benefits of employees and the labour relations system in Hong Kong. While members held different views on the suspended enactments and the way forward, they urged the Administration to consult widely and take into consideration public feedback in finalising its legislative proposals for further consideration by the relevant Bills Committees. Besides the suspended provisions, members also reviewed improvements to compensation for occupational deafness and increasing the number of statutory holidays. [If necessary, further details to be added after the March meeting.]
5.Safeguarding the employment opportunities of the local workforce was high on the Panel's agenda. Members critically examined the current provision of vocational training and employees retraining and urged the Administration to ensure that the programmes would be adjusted proactively to meet changing market needs and the overall employment situation. Members also pursued with the Administration possible ways to improve employment assistance to job seekers, including the enhancement of services provided by the Local Employment Service and Job Matching Centre of the Labour Department through computerisation, as well as the provision of employment guidance and assistance to new arrivals from the Mainland.
6.On the subject of labour importation, the Panel kept the implementation of the Supplementary Labour Scheme under scrutiny. Members also visited the Job Matching Centre which processed applications for imported labour under the Scheme. As regards the Construction Labour Importation Scheme (CLIS) proposed by the Administration to meet future manpower needs arising from the Government's plans for massive housing and infrastructural projects, members held different views. They nevertheless concurred that every assistance and priority must be given to local workers in filling job vacancies. The Panel also urged the Administration to be vigilant of changes in the economic situation and rising unemployment before launching the CLIS. Members subsequently noted the Administration's decision in February 1998 to defer implementation of the CLIS in the light of the prevailing economic and labour market situation and public feedback.
7.On the related issue of manpower situation in the construction industry, members urged the Administration to work closely with employer groups and trade unions to explore ways to attract new entrants and retain skilled workers, such as employment on fixed-term contracts and remuneration on a monthly, instead of daily, basis. The Panel also discussed the effectiveness of new measures which included the expansion of construction training programmes and the introduction of Intermediate Trade Tests for construction workers aimed at ascertaining their skill levels to facilitate successful placement. The Administration took note of members' views for further consideration by the Quadrilateral Working Group comprising representatives of the Government, relevant trade associations, labour unions and training bodies set up to identify ways to meet the labour demand of the industry over the next decade.
8.The unemployment problem brought about by the prevailing economic downturn was of major concern to the Panel. Members held in-depth discussions to examine the difficulties faced by employees and employers and called for more active assistance on the part of the Administration, such as by providing greater financial incentives to help stimulate the economy, improving co-ordination of retraining services and job placement and deterring employers from laying off workers too readily. Members also deliberated on the Administration's package of proposals to help unemployed persons, notably the improved provision of information on job vacancies and on retraining opportunities, greater collaboration among employers, training bodies and the Government to provide tailor-made retraining for long-term jobs and stepping up measures against age discrimination in employment. The Panel would continue to monitor the effectiveness of ongoing measures and new initiatives in tackling the unemployment problem.
9.On the front of occupational safety and health, the Panel examined new initiatives proposed by the Administration which included enhancement of safety protection for workers working in confined spaces and at height, mandatory safety training for construction and container handling workers and the intensive publicity programme to promote occupational safety and health. Members highlighted the need for sustained efforts in education and enforcement, as well as the importance of tripartite co-operation in promoting safety and health at work.
10.From July 1997 to March 1998, the Panel held a total of nine meetings and conducted one visit.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
17 March 1998