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LCQ12: Employment of persons with disabilities

     Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek Lai-him and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 1):


     According to the statistics of the Government, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate between June and August last year was 3.2%, representing a decrease of 0.2% as compared with that in the previous season. It has been reported that amongst the 360 000 persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Hong Kong, only 13% of them are economically active, which is much lower than the rate of over 60% economically active people in Hong Kong in general.  It has also been reported that a graduate of a university in Hong Kong, who is visually impaired, was even denied a job the main duty of which was to make telephone calls to clients at an insurance company. On the other hand, it has been reported that there is a special unit under the Labour Department (LD) helping PWDs to find jobs. In this connection, will the Government inform the Council:

(a) of the details of the aforesaid special unit under LD, including, in the past five years, the number of cases it had processed in assisting unemployed PWDs in finding jobs, and among these PWDs, the percentage of those who had secured employment through the unit; whether any review has so far been conducted to evaluate the unit's performance in fulfilling the relevant policy targets; if so, of the details of the review; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) on top of the measures currently in place, whether it has considered any additional measure to lower the unemployment rate of PWDs, and facilitate better integration of them into society; if it has, of the details;

(c) given that there is not any provision under the existing Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (the Ordinance) to require employers to provide the reasons for rejecting the job applications from those PWDs who fulfill the stated recruitment criteria, whether it has considered reviewing the Ordinance in the coming year to enhance the transparency of the recruitment procedures of companies by including such a requirement in the Ordinance; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) whether it will reconsider introducing an employment quota for PWDs, making reference to similar overseas practices; if it will, of the details (including the details of the various employment quota systems adopted by the respective countries to which it has made reference); if not, the reasons for not doing so including any difficulty it faces?



     The policy objective of the Government in assisting persons with disabilities in attaining employment is to ensure that they have equal access to participation in productive and gainful employment in the open market. To this end, we have in place suitable legislative measures against disability discrimination at the workplace and in employment. We also provide a wide range of employment support and vocational training services for persons with disabilities so as to equip them with job skills that meet market requirements and assist them in securing suitable employment commensurate with their abilities. These services include selective placement services provided by the Labour Department (LD) to assist persons with disabilities in securing open employment; vocational rehabilitation training provided by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and the Vocational Training Council Shine Skills Centres; and re-training programmes provided by the Employees Retraining Board. My reply to different parts of Hon Abraham Shek Lai-him's question is as follows:

(a) The Selective Placement Division (SPD) of LD provides free and personalised employment services to job seekers with disabilities for open employment. The placement officers of SPD will conduct in-depth interviews with job seekers to understand their job aspirations, provide them with the latest information on the labour market, match the job seekers to vacancies offered by employers and refer suitable candidates to job interviews where appropriate. After job seekers have successfully secured employment, the placement officers will keep in view their progress and provide assistance where necessary to ensure harmonious working relationship. In the five years from 2007 to 2011, a total of 3 666, 3 327, 3 185, 3 051 and 2 672 job seekers with disabilities registered for employment service with SPD respectively. The corresponding numbers of placements achieved were 2 619, 2 490, 2 436, 2 405 and 2 403.  

     Moreover, SPD administers the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme (WOPS) which encourages employers to provide work trial opportunities and support to job seekers with disabilities through the provision of subsidies. To assess the effectiveness of WOPS, SPD collected feedback by means of questionnaires from participants in 2010 and 2011.  Over 80% of the respondents considered that WOPS could encourage employers to employ persons with disabilities and facilitate employers to better understand their work abilities. SPD will continue to actively approach employers of various industries to promote the working capacity of persons with disabilities and to canvass more suitable vacancies for them.

(b) In addition to existing measures, the Chief Executive has announced in the 2011-12 Policy Address a host of new initiatives to enhance employment support and create job opportunities for persons with disabilities.

     Through granting seed money to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the setting up of small enterprises, the "Enhancing Employment of People with Disabilities through Small Enterprise Project" (3E's Project) creates job opportunities for persons with disabilities. Under the 3E's Project, SWD provides NGOs with a maximum funding support of $2 million per business to meet the set-up capital cost and operating expenses incurred in the initial period of business operation. A funded business needs to fulfill the requirement that the number of employees with disabilities should not be less than 50% of the number of employees on the payroll of the business. As at December 2011, over 70 businesses were set up under the 3E's Project, creating over 550 job positions specifically for persons with disabilities. To sustain the momentum in enhancing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, the Administration has already obtained the approval of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Finance Committee to inject $100 million into the 3E's Project and extend its funding period for each project from a maximum of two years to three years.

     As an incentive for employers in offering more job opportunities for persons with disabilities, the Administration will also provide subsidies to employers of persons with disabilities for procuring assistive devices and carrying out workplace modification works, thereby enabling employees with disabilities to work more efficiently.  

     Besides, we will provide a $500 mentorship award as financial incentive, thereby encouraging employers to render workplace guidance to employees with disabilities and help them adapt to new jobs.

     To reinforce the efforts in promoting employment for persons with disabilities, the Labour and Welfare Bureau, LD and SWD will continue to strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration among the business sector, local communities, NGOs and government departments; launch a series of publicity programmes to enhance public understanding of the work abilities of persons with disabilities and support services provided by various government departments and rehabilitation agencies for the employment of persons with disabilities; and give due recognition to employers of persons with disabilities.

(c) The Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) gives persons with disabilities the legal safeguard for equal opportunities and protects them against discrimination, harassment and vilification in employment and other areas. The Equal Opportunities Commission, the enforcement authority for anti-discrimination legislation, is also vested with the authority to issue codes of practice to provide recommendations for good procedures and practices.  Following public consultation and passage by LegCo, a revised Code of Practice on Employment under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Code) was issued in July 2011 for reference by employees and employers. The Code elaborates the application of DDO in the employment context and sets out employment guidelines on the proper handling of recruitment, disability-related workplace absence and dismissal. Under the recruitment chapter of the Code, practical guidances on how DDO may apply in specific situations, how to assess all job applicants on merits, employees' rights under the legislation in different stages of recruitment, etc are provided to ensure that the principle of equal opportunities would be upheld in the recruitment process. We consider that DDO and the revised Code have afforded the intended protection to guard against disability discrimination in the recruitment process. Hence we have no intention of reviewing DDO at this stage.

(d) According to studies by the European Commission in 2000 and the International Labour Organisation in 2003 on measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities, a mandatory employment quota system has not been proven successful overseas in helping persons with disabilities secure employment, and some countries have abolished their quota system. The international trend has in fact moved away from employment quota system to anti-discrimination legislation, the provision of incentives for employers and enhanced support measures for persons with disabilities.  

     Indeed, under a mandatory employment quota system, persons with disabilities would be perceived as a liability, making them difficult to be accepted by their peers at work. This is not conducive to their integration into the community. We consider that persons with disabilities should be assisted to find appropriate jobs on the basis of their abilities rather than disabilities. In this regard, apart from providing the abovementioned vocational training and employment support for persons with disabilities, we will continue to adopt positive encouragement measures to enhance job opportunities for persons with disabilities, such as giving due recognition to good employers, sharing good practices and providing incentive and assistance to employers, etc.

Ends/Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:07


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