PLC Paper No. CB(1)23/97-98
(These minutes have been seen by the
Administration and cleared with the Chairman)
Ref : CB1/PL/MP/1

LegCo Panel on Manpower

Minutes of meeting
held on Friday, 20 June 1997,
at 9:00 am in the Chamber of
the Legislative Council Building

Members present :
    Hon LAU Chin-shek (Chairman)
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Hon LEE Kai-ming
    Hon MOK Ying-fan

Members absent :

    Hon NGAI Shui-kit, OBE, JP
    Hon SZETO Wah
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
    Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
    Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP
    Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing

Public officers attending :

For Items II and III

Mr Matthew CHEUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
Ms Esther LEUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Mr Tony Reynalds
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

For Item III

Mr TSANG Kin-woo
Assistant Commissioner for Labour
Miss Michelle TSANG
Senior Assistant Solicitor General
Basic Law Unit
Attorney General’s Chambers

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Miss Connie FUNG
Assistant Legal Adviser 3
Ms Karen WONG
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)9

I Information papers issued since the last meeting

The Panel noted that no paper on general subjects had been issued since the last meeting.

II Review on vocational training and retraining services

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1805/96-97(01) and (02))

2. The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS for E&M) presented the paper on the Review of the Employees Retraining Scheme (ERS). In the ensuing meeting, members deliberated on the following issues.

Strategic manpower planning and training development

3. Ms CHAN Yuen-han anticipated a significant manpower demand in the construction industry in the next few years upon commencement of a number of infrastructural and housing projects. She enquired on the Administration’s strategic planning, if any, for future manpower supply and the training/retraining policies on helping the unemployed or those who were employed in declining trades to transfer to the construction industry.

4. In reply, DS for E&M said that a detailed study was being conducted to estimate the manpower requirements for the next five years in respect of the construction industry. Moreover, the Joint Working Group mentioned in LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1805/96-97(01) would look into the collaboration of work between the Vocational Training Council (VTC) and the Employees Retraining Board (ERB).

5. Ms CHAN Yuen-han was of the view that the Administration should set up a centralized body to plan and coordinate the transfer of manpower from declining trades to trades with a significant manpower demand. In response, DS for E&M cautioned against possible interference with the free-market economy of Hong Kong and explained that as the labour demand in different skill sectors varied from time to time, it was important to devise a flexible and robust mechanism to respond to the changing needs of the market. Such a mechanism should provide different training opportunities for workers. In the Review of the ERS, it was recommended that the ERB would provide General Skills Courses while the VTC would conduct Skills Upgrading Courses. In addition, follow-up work including counselling would also be offered.

6. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan commented that the two reviews were mainly management reviews and did not contain any recommendation on the strategy on future manpower planning. Referring to the Administration’s five-year manpower forecast up to the year 2001, he urged the Administration to conduct similar forecasts on different trades so that the ERB and the VTC could plan their future training on the basis of the forecast information.

7. In reply, DS for E&M said that manpower surveys on various industries were conducted by the relevant training boards of the VTC on a biennial basis. On the basis of the survey reports, the ERB would plan their training courses accordingly. In fact, in the Review of the VTC, it was recommended that the VTC’s ability to conduct manpower surveys should be strengthened. He said that the "Manpower Revisited" document compiled by the Education & Manpower Branch would be updated according to the latest population survey and this was expected to be completed early next year.

Placement-tied payment system

8. Mr CHAN Wing-chan opined that the placement-tied payment system might be unfair to training bodies as placement results were contingent on many factors which were not within their control. Besides, he cautioned that in order to achieve the requisite placement rate, training bodies might set stringent admission criteria to screen out applicants who might stand a low chance of placement. DS for E&M stressed the importance of setting appropriate performance indicators and confirmed that the Employees Retraining Board would devise flexible and viable arrangements in consultation with training bodies. Mr CHAN suggested that reference to the attendance rates of the trainees could be used as one of the yardsticks in determining funding. DS for E&M agreed to convey this to the ERB for consideration.

Retraining allowance and fee-charging system

9. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan stressed that the retraining allowance should not be reduced or cancelled as this would remove the incentive for retraining. He also pointed out that the fee-charging system was not cost-effective as he was aware that some retrainees who had enrolled had subsequently withdrawn because of the imposed fees. In reply, DS for E&M said that the fee-charging system was actually proposed by some retraining bodies with a view to preventing possible abuse of the allowance. He said that the fee-charging system would not create hardship on retrainees as the unemployed or low-income earners could claim refund of fees after they had attained an attendance rate of 80%.

Other concerns

10. Members enquired whether the Joint Working Group would become a standing working group and expressed concerns about future coordination between the ERB and the VTC. They also sought clarifications on the long-term financing arrangements of the ERB. DS for E&M replied that the Joint Working Group was intended to be a standing working group tasked with the bridging-over arrangements between the ERB and the VTC. He also informed the meeting that there was overlapping membership of the VTC and the ERB which would hopefully enhance smooth coordination of the work of the two bodies. On the financing of the ERB, DS for E&M agreed that a long-term plan had to be worked out but said that at present, the ERB had sufficient funds to meet its running costs for the next two to three years.

11. In reply to members’ question on the difference between the On-the-job Training Scheme (OJT) and Skills Upgrading Courses (SUC), DS for E&M explained that the OJT aimed at encouraging employers to employ retrainees by making financial reimbursements to employers. On the other hand, the SUC aimed at providing training for workers already in employment so as to upgrade their skills. Members noted that the OJT was currently under review with a view to including ‘on-the-job attachment’ as part of the retraining programs to tie in with the proposed phasing out of the OJT.

III Employees’ right to strike

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1805/96-97(03) & (04), CB(1)1654/96-97(02) and Chinese version of the Administration’s paper tabled at the meeting and subsequently circulated vide CB(1)1897/96-97)

12. Members noted that according to the Administration’s paper, employees already enjoyed a de facto right to strike. However, in reality, employees who went on strike would lose their entitlement to all terminal compensation. They argued that under the existing provisions, employees only had the freedom but not the right to strike. In response, the Senior Assistant Solicitor General (SASG) explained that at present, there was no law prohibiting or restricting the freedom and liberty to strike. In other words, it could be said that the right to strike being enjoyed by employees was almost unrestricted. However, members argued that if such a right was not formally legislated, employees could not enjoy the right in full.

13. At the invitation of the Chairman, Assistant Legal Adviser 3 (ALA3) advised as follows:

  1. according to Article 27 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents should have the right and freedom to strike. Freedom of strike should be distinguished from the right to strike. Despite their freedom of strike, employees were not exempted from the legal consequences of strike action. On the other hand, the right to strike would confer on employees greater employment protection and the right to seek remedies if necessary;

  2. Article 27 of the Basic Law did not require implementation of the right to strike through legislation. This was different from Articles 23 and 39 of the Basic Law which required certain acts and relevant provisions in human rights covenants be implemented through legislation. As such, the absence of legislation on the right to strike might not constitute contravention of Article 27 of the Basic Law; and

  3. employees might rely on Article 27 of the Basic Law to exercise their right to strike but the ultimate authority in determining the lawfulness or otherwise of certain strike action rested with the court.

14. Noting that according to Article 39 of the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Labour Conventions as applied to Hong Kong should remain in force and be implemented through the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Mr LEE Cheuk-yan considered that legislation should be made to implement workers’ right to strike as stated in Article 8 of the said Covenant. In response, ALA3 clarified that the provision on the right to strike in Article 8 of the ICESCR was not applicable to Hong Kong. However, Mr LEE further pointed out that the provisions which were applicable to Hong Kong in the International Labour Convention No. 87 contained implied provision on the right to strike. Nevertheless, he would conduct further research on the implementation of the right to strike in different countries and continue to urge the Administration to enact relevant laws.

15. Ms CHAN Yuen-han expressed support for the proposal to legislate on the right to strike. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong and Mr Michael HO Man-ka, on behalf of the Democratic Party, also supported the proposal of Mr LEE Cheuk-yan. They were of the view that employees’ right to strike should be protected by law and employees should not face any adverse legal consequences as a result of strike action.

16. The meeting ended at 10:40 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
10 July 1997

Last Updated on 21 August 1998