Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)1279
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/MP

Panel on Manpower

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 23 March 1998, at 2:30 pm 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 James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon WONG Siu-yee
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public officers attending :

Mr Matthew CHEUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Ms Esther LEUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Miss Susanne HO
Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

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 Nos. CB(1)1152 and 1157)

1 The minutes of the meeting held on 23 February 1998 were confirmed.

2 Members endorsed the Panel report to be tabled at the Council meeting on 7 April 1998 and authorized the Chairman and the Clerk to revise the report, if necessary, in the light of the deliberations at this meeting.

3 Members noted that on the advice of the Chairman, the Secretariat had written to the Administration for an update on the Panel ' s outstanding issues. They agreed that the issues should be followed up by the Manpower Panel formed under the first Legislative Council of the SAR. Clerk

II Review on proposed arrangements for general holidays

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)1150(01))

4 The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS/E&M) briefed members on the results of the recent targeted consultation exercise on the deletion of two existing general but not statutory holidays from 1999 onwards to make way for the new general holidays on Labour Day (1 May) and Buddha ' s Birthday (the eighth day of the fourth lunar month). Members noted that of the 36 major employer and employee organisations, representative bodies within the financial services sector, and representatives of major religions which the Administration had approached, 28 responded. Of the 28 respondents, three had no special preferences while the majority of the 25 remaining respondents had opted for the deletion of Sino-Japanese War Victory Day (68%) and 2 October (60%). Admin

5 At members’ request to provide more details on the findings, in particular the views of employers and employees, DS/E&M agreed to provide the Panel with information on the number/proportion of respondent employer and employee organisations which supported deleting the Victory Day and 2 October.

Number of general holidays

6 As there was no overwhelming view on which holidays to delete, Miss CHAN Yuen-han reiterated her view that the Government should just add the two new general holidays to the existing holidays. In response, DS/E&M re-affirmed the Administration ' s policy decision to cap the number of general holidays in Hong Kong at the present level of 17 days a year which had been thoroughly discussed at the Panel and at a meeting of the Provisional Legislative Council. He also pointed out that as Hong Kong already compared much more favourably than its neighbouring countries and trading partners as far as general holidays were concerned, it might not be appropriate to increase the number of such holidays further, lest Hong Kong ' s economic competitiveness might be affected. According to the Administration, an additional holiday would increase the payroll by 0.2%, which amounted to $700 million.

Factors for consideration in deciding which holidays to delete

7 The Deputy Chairman considered that the public ' s preference for long weekends or several holidays in a row should be catered for. She therefore did not prefer deleting Easter Monday or the first weekday after Christmas Day. While agreeing that long weekends were desirable, Mr HO Sai-chu pointed out that it might not be necessary to provide for three long weekends in a year. The Chairman added that while the availability of three long weekends in a year might offer the public more flexibility in arranging their leave plans, it was not likely that they would take trips on all the three occasions.

8 As for other considerations, members did not express strong views in support of an even spread of holidays throughout the year but some members highlighted the need for reducing disruption to the financial services sector.

Which two general holidays to delete

9 At the Chairman ' s invitation to state their views, Mr HO Sai-chu suggested the deletion of the Victory Day and Easter Monday. Mr HO said that the former might be deleted as he did not consider it essential to designate a holiday to cater for the commemorative activities which could well be staged on the preceding Sunday while the latter could be offset by the Buddha ' s Birthday which was also a religious holiday. On the other hand, Mr HO Sai-chu was not in favour of deleting 2 October as it was also celebrated in the Mainland. The Chairman shared a similar view. Messrs James TIEN and Ronald ARCULLI indicated support for the deletion of the Victory Day and 2 October because this was the majority preference as revealed in the Administration ' s consultation exercise. When invited to comment on these two members’ proposal, members present had not raised any objection to it.

Legislative timetable

10 In reply to a member ' s question on the legislative timetable, DS/E&M advised that as arrangements for general holidays would affect commercial planning and decisions, the Government would try to submit the necessary legislative proposals to the new Legislative Council in July 1998.

11 In concluding the discussion, the Chairman urged the Administration to consider members’ views carefully before reaching a decision. He also requested the Administration to organise activities to commemorate the Victory Day should it be deleted as a holiday. In response, DS/E&M undertook to follow up with the organisations which had not yet responded and would inform the Panel should there be sharply different preferences. Admin

III Any other business - issues related to unemployment

(Findings of an employment survey conducted by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions tabled at the meeting and subsequently circulated to members vide PLC Paper No. CB(1)1199)

12 The Chairman referred to PLC Paper No. CB(1)1187 issued earlier on and informed members that the Administration had agreed to brief members on issues related to the unemployment problem.

Additional measures introduced by the Administration

13 DS/E&M highlighted the following additional measures the Government would undertake to tackle rising unemployment -

  1. Starting from 30 March 1998, the opening hours of the branch offices of the Labour Department ' s Local Employment Service, the employment and guidance centre for new arrivals and the Job Matching Centre would be extended for one more hour (i.e. from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm).

  2. Starting from April 1998, all LD ' s employment service centres would be computerised to provide a central register of job vacancies for job-seekers. To tie in with this development, LD would also step up liaison with employers to improve co-ordination and collation of information on job vacancies to strengthen its job matching and placement service.

  3. While retraining services would still be mainly targeted at those with no more than lower secondary education and aged 30 or above, the admission criteria for retraining might be relaxed to provide retraining to those aged below 30.

  4. The Administration was liaising with small and medium enterprises and other employer groups to identify categories of long-term job vacancies for which specially tailor-made retraining programmes and/or on-the-job training programmes with training allowance could be organised by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB). Such courses would be co-organised with trade associations so that the qualification so obtained would be formally recognised by the relevant employer groups.

  5. To help sustain the employability of retrainees, one-year post-placement follow-up would be provided to ensure that they could meet employers’ requirements and stay competitive in the work-force.

14 In response to the Administration ' s claim that the Small and Medium Enterprises Committee under the Industry Department (InD) had responded favourably to the new initiative under para. 13(d) and had suggested the job of computer programmers for which such tailor-made retraining could be considered, Mr James TIEN pointed out that the InD ' s Small and Medium Enterprises Committee was only a consultative body with no member companies which could take follow-up actions. He added that the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, which the Administration had also approached, would not be ready to co-organise retraining courses for onward recognition by employers because the Chamber consisted of members from many different trades and they were having a difficult time in the current economic situation to sustain their own business. In this connection, Mr LEE Kai-ming urged the Administration to play a co-ordinating role in ensuring that different sectors in the community would co-operate with each other to ride out the economic storm. The Deputy Chairman emphasised the need to exercise care in requiring small-to-medium enterprises to provide on-the-job training for displaced workers so that they would not be forced to put up with inefficient staff. She also emphasised the need for long-term education and manpower planning.

15 In addressing members’ concerns, DS/E&M advised that members of InD ' s Small and Medium Enterprises Committee had already undertaken to relay the Administration ' s proposals to their trade associations. As far as co-organising retraining was concerned, he clarified that the Administration ' s intended partners were relevant trade associations and further reported that the Hong Kong Retail Management Association had already agreed to co-organise such courses.

Members’ proposals

16 While welcoming the new initiatives, some members felt the Government was not proactive enough and lacked a sense of crisis and vision in handling the unemployment problem. These members reiterated the need for more effective measures to tackle the rising unemployment problem affecting not only the lower stratum of Hong Kong ' s workforce but also middle class employees. Members put forward the following proposals for the Administration ' s consideration -

  1. There was a need for more financial incentives such as reduction in taxes and rates to nurture a more favourable economic environment for promoting business growth.

  2. The Government should seriously examine the viability of measures proposed by the public such as the designation of special hawker zones, and the introduction of unemployment allowance as suggested by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.

  3. In view of the multi-faceted nature of the unemployment problem, there should be close co-operation between the relevant bureaux and departments. The unemployment problem should be studied by a high-level body such as the Commission on Strategic Development.

  4. To safeguard employment opportunities of local workers, the Administration should implement such administrative measures as requiring contractors to give priority of employment to local workers as a tender condition when they bid for government projects.

  5. The Government should devise measures to assist local workers to fill vacancies in trades which had to rely on imported workers. Such jobs included domestic helpers and certain categories of construction workers.

17 DS/E&M assured members that the Government would make use of existing measures and consider new initiatives to tackle the unemployment problem. On assistance to middle-class employees, he said that the LD was actively liaising with employers on job vacancies and the LD had designated a special corner in its employment service centres to display information on job vacancies suitable for job-seekers with higher education and middle management background. He reckoned that there was no immediate solution to the present unemployment problem but expected the situation would improve over time with the concerted efforts from the Government and all sectors of the community.

18 Where financial incentives were concerned, DS/E&M pointed out that the Administration had already introduced some tax concessions. The opening up of the telecommunications market and greater Government financial commitment to improve institutional care for the elderly would also create many new jobs for local people. He also undertook to examine the viability of members’ proposals. As for securing co-operation from other government departments/bureaux in mapping out solutions, members noted that EMB had already been liaising with all relevant departments/bureaux and major training institutions and employer groups to take stock of the latest labour market situation and discuss what more could be done to help the unemployed. Admin

19 On safeguarding local workers’ employment opportunities, DS/E&M reminded members that the Administration ' s prime objective had always been to meet the demand for labour as far as possible through sustained, flexible and intensive training and retraining of local workers. For example, a grant of $80 million would be made to the Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA) to expand its short-term programmes substantially to train up more construction workers in preparation for the building boom. The ERB was also offering courses to train up local domestic helpers.

Other concerns

20 Some members referred to the findings of a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, which showed that only 5.5% of the respondents found retraining helpful while 23.2% preferred putting an end to labour importation. They also urged the Administration not to focus on retraining only. DS/E&M nevertheless referred members to the average placement rate of 70% for retrainees. At members’ request, he would provide further information on the employment situation (e.g., the duration of their stay on the job, etc.) of the successfully placed ERB retrainees. He maintained that training and retraining were the best long-term solutions to unemployment and as such, should remain a priority area for Government efforts. Admin

21 Commenting on the notable preference revealed in the survey for putting an end to labour importation, DS/E&M pointed out that labour importation in cases where local workers were genuinely not available to fill the vacancies should be allowed to provide a safety valve to ease any bottleneck in labour supply. He assured members that as a matter of policy on importation of labour, the Government would ensure that priority of employment would always be given to local workers. In this connection, he informed the Panel that to phase out reliance on imported workers, a major developer had already agreed to provide local workers on-the-job training in tunnel drilling, a specialised trade type which in the past had always been taken up by imported labour.

22 Some members cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Intermediate Trade Tests conducted by the CITA and the Vocational Training Council in helping construction workers to find jobs. At their request, DS/E&M undertook to provide information on the employment situation of the some 300 construction workers who had completed the Tests. Admin

23 Concluding the meeting, the Chairman thanked members and the Administration for their contribution to the Panel during the session.

24 The meeting ended at 4:10 p.m.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
24 April 1998