Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 1867/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/MP/1

LegCo Panel on Manpower

Minutes of meeting held on Wednesday, 3 March 1999 at 10:45 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present:

Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP (Chairman)
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Kenneth TING Woo-shou, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Dr Hon LUI Ming-wah, JP
Hon CHAN Kwok-keung
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Members absent:

Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP

Public Officers attending:

Item III

Mr Philip K F CHOK
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Miss Erica NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG, JP
Commissioner for Labour

Mr CHOW Tung-shan
Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Employment Services)

Executive Director
Employees Retraining Board

Item IV

Mr Philip K F CHOK
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Miss Erica NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Herman CHO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG, JP
Commissioner for Labour

Mrs Jennie CHOR, JP
Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Rights and Benefits)

Mr TSANG Kin-woo, JP
Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Labour Relations)

Senior Government Counsel (International Law)

Item V

Mr Philip K F CHOK
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Miss Erica NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG, JP
Commissioner for Labour

Mr TSANG Kin-woo, JP
Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Labour Relations)

Ms Roxana CHENG
Senior Assistant Solicitor General (Human Rights)
Clerk in attendance:
Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)1
Staff in attendance:
Ms Lolita NG
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 5
I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting held on 23 December 1998
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1360/98-99)

The minutes were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1383/98-99(01))

2. The Panel decided to discuss the following items at the next meeting on 23 March 1999 :

  1. Population growth and employment;

  2. A study on the manpower requirement for the infrastructural projects; and

  3. Elderly employment.
(Post-meeting note : The discussion of item at paragraph 2(b) was deferred at the request of the Administration.)

3. At the suggestion of Dr LUI Ming-wah, the Panel agreed to discuss the entry of mainland professionals into Hong Kong at a future meeting. Responding to Dr LUI Ming-wah, Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DESM) said that the Administration was reviewing the policy on the entry of mainland professionals. He undertook to keep members informed of the time-table for completion of the review at the next meeting.Adm

4. On the proposal of Mr SIN Chung-kai, the Panel also agreed to discuss the manpower and training needs of information technology industry and the occupational health of employees working with computers. Commissioner for Labour (C for L) agreed to provide a guideline on the latter subject in due course. Adm

5. Mr LAU Chin-shek requested the Administration to follow the past practice of providing the Panel with the agenda of the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) meetings. C for L agreed. At the request of the Chairman, C for L would consider ways of improving the communication between the Panel and LAB.
    (Post-meeting note : The Administration has clarified that in the past, the agenda of LAB meeting has not been provided to the Panel, but after each LAB meeting, the C for L, as Chairman of LAB, provides a summary of issues discussed at the LAB to the Chairman of the Panel.)

III. Progress of measures to create jobs and tackle unemployment
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1383/98-99(02))

6. At the request of the Chairman, DSEM highlighted the progress of the measures to create jobs and tackle unemployment as follows -

  1. On advancing commencement of public works and infrastructural projects, the Administration would advance three projects, including the Castle Peak Hospital reprovisioning project, the road expansion programme at Tolo Harbour and the development project at Tung Chung, Lantau Island. This would result in the creation of about 2 000 new jobs in the labour market. The Administration was also considering the possibility of advancing some more projects in order that more jobs be created ;

  2. On employees retraining, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) had increased its training capacity of the day-time courses by 80% and its total training capacity by 30% in 1998-99. ERB would further increase its training capacity to 95 000 in 1999-2000, with a training expenditure of $430 million ;

  3. About 3 000 Temporary Community Organisers had been recruited for the three community building projects on promotion of private building management and fire safety and survey on the housing condition of new arrivals; and

  4. The Administration had allocated an additional sum of $1.3 billion for the Special Finance Scheme for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). One Thousand SMEs had benefited from the Scheme since its inception in August 1998. The number of the successful applications had increased by 27% in January 1999.
7. C for L briefed members on the Administration's latest efforts in modernising and strengthening the Labour Department's employment services, as well as its latest initiatives in enhancing the retraining and job matching services for domestic helpers as contained in Appendices I and II of the paper. He said that a package of new arrangements and facilities incorporating new technology, targeted measures, personalised and value-added services had either recently been introduced or would come on stream over the next few months. This package of new services comprised the following -
  1. intensive publicity of job vacancies through radio broadcast ;

  2. easy registration procedure ;

  3. job vacancy processing centre ;

  4. telephone employment service centre ;

  5. interactive employment services on the Web ;

  6. one-stop district-based service for domestic helper vacancies ;

  7. publication of reference materials on job hunting skill; and

  8. enhanced Labour Department (LD)'s General Enquiry Telephone Service.
The enhancements sought to provide an employment service that was simple, modern and responsive - one that could take care of the needs of all sectors of job-seekers as well as employers under a customer-oriented culture.

8. C for L and the Executive Director of ERB (ED/ERB) also highlighted the latest enhancement efforts of LD and ERB to provide employment services and retraining for local domestic helpers as outlined in Appendix II of the paper. They said that ERB and LD maintained close liaison with each other on referrals on domestic helper vacancies as well as other fronts for co-operation. ERB and LD would continue to strengthen their co-operation, in areas such as referrals and publicity, in order to provide better services to job-seekers and retrainees in the field.

9. ED/ERB further said that in 1999-2000, ERB would increase its training capacity of the retraining-cum-job matching programmes for domestic helpers from 3 700 to 5 200. ERB would also organise new courses in the areas of personal care for the elderly and information technology. As there were employment opportunities in the sector of information technology, ERB would conduct a training course for information technical assistants in September 1999.

10. Having regard to the judgment of the Court of Final Appeal on cases in relation to the right of abode of persons born in the Mainland to Hong Kong permanent residents, Miss CHAN Yuen-han and Mr CHAN Wing-chan were concerned about the impact on the labour market following the arrival of the eligible persons. While anticipating a rise in the unemployment rate, they suggested that additional measures be worked out to tackle the unemployment problem. In this connection, Mr Andrew CHENG proposed that the progress of work of the special task force chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration in relation to employment be provided to the Panel regularly.

11. The responses of DSEM and C for L were as follows -

  1. The implication of the judgment of the Court of Final Appeal would be far-reaching. In order to obtain a reliable estimate on the number of persons who were or would be eligible for the right of abode in Hong Kong following the Court of Final Appeal's judgment, the Census and Statistics Department would conduct a household survey from March to May 1999 to ascertain the number of Mainland children and spouses of Hong Kong residents ;

  2. The Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) would study the matter after more data on the number of persons, age, educational level, etc. were collected by the household survey ; and

  3. The Administration was very concerned about the unemployment problem which, however, could not be solved within a short period of time. The availability of new jobs in the labour market would largely depend on the economic recovery. LD would continue to strengthen the employment services and seek job vacancies as far as possible ;
12. The Chairman and Mr Andrew CHENG were of the view that EMB should begin to study the implications of the Court of Final Appeal's judgment on the provision of its services and the employment situation in Hong Kong, rather than waited until the completion of the household survey in July 1999. DSEM said that the Policy Bureaux would start conducting preliminary studies on the provision of services in the medium and longer term to cater for the intake of the eligible persons from the Mainland. EMB would pursue the matter with consideration given to the findings of the household survey.

13. Miss CHAN Yuen-han expressed doubt on the sufficiency of the existing measures to tackle unemployment and create jobs in Hong Kong as she expected a growth in the population following the Court of Final Appeal's judgment. Referring to LD's customer-oriented approach and taking into account the huge demand for local domestic helpers as well as the needs of the job-seekers, she queried the capacity of the 11 Local Employment Service (LES) offices in serving the community. Furthermore, she questioned about the long waiting time of the telephone hotline service.

14. C for L responded that -

  1. the customer-oriented approach aimed to up-grade the employment services of LD. The needs of both the job-seekers and employers would be met under a customer-oriented culture;

  2. the proactive approach of LD in providing employment services for local domestic helpers was an innovative attempt. A special service counter was set up in each of the LES offices to provide enhanced job-matching services for local job-seekers looking for domestic helper jobs and "Domestic Helper Talks" were organized to teach job-seekers job hunting skills. LD also provided market information and reached out to promote special services to all potential employers of local domestic helpers, including the mailing of leaflets for introducing LES for domestic helpers in large housing estates in collaboration with the owners' corporations and the district offices of the Home Affairs Department, with a view to soliciting more job opportunities ; and

  3. the Administration would review whether the LES offices could meet the demand for the employment services, with consideration given to the actual number of users. More time would be required for the implementation of the new initiatives before a conclusion could be drawn .
15. Mr Kenneth TING asked about the duration of the local domestic helper jobs. C for L responded that the duration of the jobs were subject to the mutual agreements between the employers and the domestic helpers. Many domestic helpers were housewives. Despite their part-time employment for several hours per day, they could contribute to the family incomes. This would help ease the unemployment problem. In this connection, the Chairman said that some prospective employers lacked confidence to employ part-time domestic helpers whom they were not familiar with. If some sort of assurance on the quality of part-time domestic helpers could be provided to them, the demand for part-time domestic helpers would be much higher. He asked the Administration to look into this point.

16. Mr CHAN Wing-chan commented that the new initiatives in paragraph 7 above could not help the unemployed to secure employment immediately. On expediting expenditure on minor Government maintenance works, he enquired about the duration of work of the 1 150 jobs created as of 31 January 1999. Regarding the provision of telephone referral service for job-seekers, he was concerned about the follow-up service after referrals were made.

17. In response, DSEM said that some of the jobs created for the Government maintenance works were project-based, with an average duration of about two years. As regards the telephone referral service, C for L said that a job-seeker was referred to the employer who registered for the service. It was the decision of the employer whether or not to employ the job-seeker or otherwise. A job-seeker might require several referrals before an employment could be secured. If a job-seeker remained unable to obtain a job after several referrals, he would be provided with a job matching service.

18. Dr LUI Ming-wah proposed that to help those who remained unable to secure employment, the data of such persons be entered into the computer network for matching the requirements of the job vacancies. C for L reiterated that LD had been providing job matching service to this category of job-seekers. Dr LUI Ming-wah added that the unemployed should be encouraged to adopt a pragmatic attitude when hunting for jobs. They should consider accepting a lower pay.

19. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan asked about the rationale for the prevailing unemployment problem in the construction trade, despite the creation of about 30 000 new jobs from May 1998 to end 1998. He said that as more ready-made products for building projects were manufactured in the Mainland, the employment opportunities of the local workers had been adversely affected. He suggested the Administration to set out in the contracts of the future public works and housing projects a requirement that such products be manufactured in Hong Kong.

20. DSEM agreed to convey the aforesaid concern and views to the relevant Bureau. He said that the job creation problem could be addressed by the study on the manpower requirement for the infrastructural projects to be discussed at the next meeting. The Chairman opined that the present unemployment problem in the construction trade was largely related to the absence of growth in the private construction sector. C for L added that the decreasing number of interior decoration projects also contributed to unemployment in the construction trade.

21. Mr SIN Chung-kai said that as there were ample employment opportunities in the information technology sector, efforts should be made to provide for retraining in this area, such as the application and maintenance of soft and hard wares, computer animation, etc. He proposed that the progress of such efforts be reported to the Panel regularly.Adm

22. ED/ERB responded that ERB would commence training of technical assistants in this area. In order to provide the trainees with a well-structured education and training ladder in information technology, a qualifications framework could be developed for the training programmes. Given improvement and more recognition for their vocational qualifications, the trainees might have better opportunities to secure employment in this field. Mr SIN Chung-kai agreed to the establishment of a qualification framework. He added that training courses should be provided for secondary schools leavers for employment in the field of computer technology, animation in particular.

23. Mr Kenneth TING was concerned about the criteria for measuring the success of the new radio programme entitled . C for L advised that selected vacancy information had been broadcast on Radio Telephone Hong Kong five days a week for the benefit of job-seekers. Job-seekers could phone in for enquiry of more details. The feedback from the job-seekers was encouraging.

24. Mr Andrew CHENG enquired about the date of completion of the review on the Special Finance Scheme for SMEs. DSEM undertook to follow up the matter with the Trade and Industry Bureau.Adm

IV. Implementation of the International Labour Conventions in Hong Kong
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1383/98-99(03)

25. At the request of the Chairman, C for L briefed members on the application of International Labour Conventions (ILCs) in Hong Kong as outlined in the paper.

26. C for L said that the continued application of ILCs in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was guaranteed under Articles 39 and 147 of the Basic Law. At present, 46 ILCs were applied in the HKSAR. Of the 46 Conventions, 31 were applied without modification (i.e. implementation of all provisions of a Convention) and 15 were applied with modification (i.e. implementation of the provisions of a Convention subject to modification of certain provisions to suit local conditions).

27. C for L further said that the Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (Convention No. 144), which was applied in the HKSAR with modification, imposed an obligation on the SAR Government to operate procedures which ensured effective tripartite consultation between representatives of the government, of employers and of workers on the activities of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) such as matters concerning international labour standards. In accordance with the provisions of this Convention, matters concerning the application of ILCs in the HKSAR were considered by a tripartite Committee on the Implementation of International Labour Standards set up under LAB.

28. Members noted that in November 1998, ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association published a report together with its recommendation on the complaint lodged by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions against the HKSAR Government for breaching the provisions of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 [Convention No.87] and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 [Convention No. 98] through the enactment of the Employment and Labour Relations (Miscellaneous Amendment) Ordinance 1997. However, the Administration was of the view that the HKSAR Government had not contravened the provisions of the ILCs as Convention No.87 was applicable to Hong Kong with modification.

29. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan queried the rationale for not implementing all the provisions of Convention No.87 in the HKSAR. As regards Convention No.98 which provided for collective bargaining, he considered that the Administration did not respect the conclusion and proposal of the ILO's Committee if it still refused to legislate for collective bargaining and recognise the status of a trade union in collective bargaining.

30. AC for L (Labour Relations) responded that in accordance with the ILO Constitution, ILCs could be applied with modification in HKSAR to suit its particular conditions. The modifications in respect of Convention No. 87 covered the qualifications of trade union officers and restrictions on the use of trade union funds for political purposes. He further said that as for qualifications, a trade union officer should be a person who was or had been engaged or employed in the concerned trade. For cases where the qualifications requirements could not be fulfilled, they needed to apply to the Registrar of Trade Unions for approval. The Administration had exercised flexibility and had approved all such applications in the past. He stressed that the modification had not hampered the development of trade unions.

31. As regards collective bargaining, C for L said that in accordance with Article 4 of Convention No. 98, there could be variations among contracting states to apply the Convention domestically. There were no hard and fast rules for the implementation of the Convention. According to the decision of the ILO, nothing in Article 4 of Convention 98 placed a duty on the Government to enforce collective bargaining by compulsory means with a given organization, as such an intervention would alter the nature of bargaining. To suit local conditions, voluntary negotiation between employer and employees could be an alternative to collective bargaining. C for L further said that the Administration did not oppose collective bargaining on a voluntary basis. LD had been promoting labour-management communication in Hong Kong and where necessary, employees and employers were encouraged to resolve employment matters or labour disputes by means of voluntary negotiation. The Workplace Consultation Promotion Unit of LD had done a lot of work in this area. At the request of the Chairman, C for L agreed to provide the Panel with a report on the work of the Unit.Adm

32. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan maintained his view. He said that ILO had made a declaration to urge all contracting states to apply all the provisions of seven ILCs, including Convention Nos. 87 and 98. Furthermore, he asked about the autonomy of the HKSAR for the implementation of ILCs. C for L responded as provided under Article 147 of the Basic Law, the HKSAR could on its own formulate laws and policies relating to labour.

33. Miss CHAN Yuen-han commented that the Administration should apply in full the Convention on collective bargaining. She opined that the present mode of tripartite consultation between representatives of the government, employers and workers was not effective in dealing with labour disputes.

34. C for L reiterated that LD had been promoting mutual communication between employers and employees which would be conducive to consultation. Voluntary negotiation had been used by a number of trades, such as the restaurant and catering industry, printing and plumbing and would be further promoted for resolving labour issues in Hong Kong.

V. Right of workers to go on strike or take industrial action
(LC Paper CB(2) 1383/98-99(04))

35. Senior Assistant Solicitor General (Human Rights) (SASG) said that since the coming into force of the Basic Law on 1 July 1997, Hong Kong residents enjoy the right and freedom to form and join trade unions and to strike, in accordance with Article 27 of the Basic Law.

36. SASG further said that section 9 of the Employment Ordinance (EO) had not contravened Article 27 of the Basic Law as it did not provide that an employer could dismiss an employee without notice or payment in lieu on the ground that the employee had participated in strikes or taken industrial actions. If an employer dismissed an employee without notice or payment in lieu on the ground that the employee had participated in strikes or taken industrial actions, the dismissal might be considered unlawful.

37. Mr CHAN Wing-chan wondered if sections 31H and 31X of EO had contravened the provision of the Basic Law since Hong Kong residents had the right to go on strikes or take industrial actions with effect from 1 July 1997. He said that in the light of experience, employees were dismissed by their employers for participation in strikes or industrial actions.

38. In response, SASG said that the provision of section 31H of EO had been in place before the coming into force of the Basic Law on 1 July 1997. What this and other relevant provisions mean is that when an employee, who had been given notice by his employer to terminate his contract of employment, took part in a strike before the expiry of that notice, his rights to severance payment, long service payment or other remedies under the EO for employment protection would not be affected. The purpose of section 31H was to protect the statutory entitlements of such employees. She stressed that since 1 July 1997, the application and the interpretation of the law should be in line with the provisions of the Basic Law.

39. Mr CHAN Wing-chan suggested that the Administration should consider amending the relevant provisions of EO such that they would comply with Article 27 of the Basic Law. SASG responded the Administration would consider carefully whether amendments to EO would be necessary having regard to the interpretation of the Basic Law.

40. Miss CHAN Yuen-han said the Administration should comprehensively review the provisions of EO. The provisions of EO which were inconsistent with the Basic Law should be amended. In this conjunction, Mr LAU Chin-shek asked about the interpretation of section 31H before and after 1 July 1997 and the date of the review as proposed by Miss CHAN Yuen-han. He proposed that the right of reinstatement be considered in the review. DSEM and C for L undertook to study the matter. The Chairman urged the Administration to keep members informed of the result of the review.Adm

41. Mr Andrew CHENG said that in order to comply with the Basic Law, sections 31H and 32M (which provided for unreasonable dismissals) of EO should be reviewed. SASG responded that whether or not an employee had lawfully exercised his right and freedom of going on strikes or taking industrial actions and whether the dismissal was justified would be subject to the decision of the court. The court would consider carefully the facts and circumstances of the case, in the light of Article 27 of the Basic Law and the relevant law, and make a ruling.

42. Mr SZETO Wah said that as workers had the rights and freedom to go on strikes or take industrial actions with effect from 1 July 1997, EO should be amended to this effect, failing which a judicial review would be necessary. Miss CHAN Yuen-han said that she would consider introducing a Member's bill if necessary.

43. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:40 pm. Legislative Council Secretariat
3 May 1999