Learning from mistakes: Lessons from Supplementary Labour Scheme

The exploitative case of Wing Kwong has revealed the serious pitfall of importation of migrant worker through the Supplementary Labour Scheme of the Labour Department.

Migrant worker in private elderly care homes increased 50% in 2 years

The current Supplementary Labour Scheme allows employers to apply for migrant worker if they are not able to hire local workers. In order to ensure employment priority for local workers, the employers have to advertise on newspaper and conduct a 4-week local recruitment at the Labour Department before their application. Only when it was confirmed that the recruitment was unsuccessful, the application would be submitted to the Labour Advisory Board for review. Migrant worker could come to Hong Kong only after the application is approved. According to the information provided by the Government to the Legislative Council, the number of migrant workers (from Mainland China) in private elderly care homes has continued to increase in the last few years.

Number of workers approved by the Supplementary Labour Scheme

                                                      2015 2016 2017

Care-workers (elderly service))    1035 1383 1510

Total (other industries included)   2880 3802 2765

Government turned a blind eye on elderly care homes’ malpractice

The Community Care and Nursing Home Workers General Union has sent under-cover investigators to attend recruitment interviews at elderly care homes which intend to import migrant worker, to have first-hand information of the so-called “local recruitment”. They found that the elderly care homes requested the applicants to work for 11 to 12 hours per day, which was much longer than the 9-hour work mentioned in the recruitment advertisement. According to information provided by front-line workers, fake recruitment is rather common, which is just a gesture to fulfill the approval procedures of the Labour Department. At the same, the Community Care and Nursing Home Workers General Union has reported several cases where elderly care homes using migrant worker asked the workers to pay back portion of their salary (in the name of “agency fee”) and work over-time without pay. Using migrant worker, which saves labour cost and brings extra income, has become the common practice of the elderly care home industries. How would employers be motivated to recruit local workers? When receiving complaints from the unions, the Labour Department did not prosecute the employers, claiming that the complaints cannot satisfy the condition of “without reasonable doubt”. The Labour Department put its head in the sand and disregarded all the abusive behaviours of the employers, refused to conduct more stringent review on future applications and inspections on elderly care homes. As a result, the Supplementary Labour Scheme was misused by the employers while the Labour Department carried out Chief Executive Mrs Carrie Lam’s policy to serve the capital. The door to importation of migrant worker was opened wide, the low-cost migrant worker was mercilessly abused and exploited, while the salary of local workers was suppressed.

Migrant worker and local workers are on the same boat

Policies on migrant worker are not affecting the migrant workers only. The Government has proposed to expand the Supplementary Labour Scheme which will affect all industries eventually. Private elderly care homes started to use migrant worker a few years ago and opened the Pandora’s Box. Even government subsidized elderly care homes claimed that they have shortage in manpower and difficulties in recruitment, and requested to use migrant worker. Unions have commented that the subsidized elderly care homes’ difficulties in recruitment was due to the fact that social service organizations took away too high a portion of the funding when they receive government grants and offered salary lower than the granted amount to the care-workers. Moreover, the unions also revealed that some subsidized social service organizations recruited and employed general care-worker under the title of care-worker assistant and offered monthly salary HK$2,000 – 3,000 less than standard. Though the Government provided additional funding to allow two salary increment points for the care-workers at subsidized elderly care homes, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Mr Law Chi-kwong said the Government would encourage, but not request, the subsidized organizationsto allocate the additional funding on salary increment for front-line staff. The irresponsible attitude of the Government has put the workers in helpless situation. In recent years, a number of social service organizations receiving funding from the Government have accumulated huge financial reserve and some of these agencies have to make refund to Social Welfare Department. At the same time, senior management of some of these organizations was paid with exceptionally high salary.

Determination is needed to stop abuse of migrant worker

The above phenomenon reflected the fact that government policies are favouring employers, which allowed the employers to abuse forign labour and suppress local workers’ employment conditions. A regime that favours the capital and disregards well-being of the grassroots sees no limits in channeling interests to the capital. To stop the employers from abusing and exploiting migrant worker, the following measures should be adopted by the Government: 1) Suspend the Supplementary Labour Scheme, conduct comprehensive review on monitoring and inspection mechanism of the Labour Department. 2) Compulsory briefing sessions, organized by the Labour Department and attended by unions, should be held for migrant worker within 4 months after their entrance into Hong Kong. Migrant workers could report violation of contract or law during the briefing sessions and be interviewed by the Labour Department again before end of contract, to identify any breach of law. 3) Fund to assist migrant workers should be set up by the Government to support their living expenses when they have to stay in Hong Kong to pursue with the labour disputes. To get rid of the infamous name of human-trafficking, we have to stop channeling interests to the unscrupulous employers!