LCQ2: Lift and escalator practitioners

Following is a question by the Hon Tam Yiu-chung and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (October 17):


The Chief Executive announced on August 21 this year that the Government would launch a "universal accessibility" programme (the programme) at the end of this year under which lifts would be installed at footbridges, elevated walkways and subways, etc. in 230 places all over Hong Kong to provide barrier-free access for the elderly, persons with disabilities and children.  However, some members of the industry have pointed out that the working environment and remuneration packages of the engineers and workers currently engaged in the installation, repair works and maintenance of lifts and escalators (practitioners) are unsatisfactory, causing brain drain and succession problems.  They have further pointed out that although the Lifts and Escalators Ordinance, planned to be fully implemented in December this year, will improve the registration and monitoring system of lift and escalator practitioners, the authorities have not taken any corresponding measure to help the industry ease the brain drain and train new blood.  Some members of the public have expressed to me their worries that the shortage of personnel may affect the progress of the programme as well as the maintenance and repair works of the lifts and escalators concerned.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  of the number of competent lift and escalator practitioners at present and their turnover rates in the past three years; and the number of practitioners required under the programme as assessed by the authorities; if no such assessment has been made, of the reasons for that; whether there are adequate competent practitioners available to tie in with the implementation of the programme and the maintenance and repair works concerned in future;

(b)  whether there are measures in place to improve the working environment and remuneration packages of lift and escalator practitioners, so as to ease the brain drain and recruit new blood; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c)  whether it has helped the industry to train new blood; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether the authorities will consider training more new blood for the industry through the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education or other tertiary institutions to ensure that there will not be any succession problems?



My reply to the three parts of Honourable Tam's question is as follows:

(a)  At present, there are 302 registered engineers and 4,960 competent workers engaged in lift and escalator works in Hong Kong.  The main duty of a registered engineer is to examine and certify whether a lift or an escalator is in safe working condition.  As for competent workers, they are mainly responsible for carrying out installation, maintenance and repair works for lifts and escalators for which they are qualified.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011, there were 267, 279 and 294 registered engineers and 4,761, 4,950 and 4,959 competent workers respectively.  These figures indicate a moderate increase in the number of registered engineers.  According to a survey conducted by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) this year, 54 people ceased to be competent workers in 2011, accounting for only 1% of the total number of competent workers.  In addition, with new workers acquiring the status of competent workers in the same year, the overall number of competent workers has still remained steady.  As at the end of 2011, there were about 59,000 lifts and 8,200 escalators in Hong Kong.  We estimate that the "universal accessibility" programme will add about 100 lifts on average each year, a very slight increase in comparison with the existing 59,000 lifts.  As such, the programme will not bring about undue pressure on the overall manpower demand.  We believe that this should be manageable with the expected growth in manpower as well as suitable redeployment of resources and flexible work arrangements by the industry.

(b)  The Government, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the industry are committed to improving site safety and working conditions for site personnel.  The EMSD regularly organises activities with the industry for promoting safety in lift and escalator works to raise their awareness of work safety.  The EMSD also reviews and updates the Code of Practice for Lift Works and Escalator Works (the Code) from time to time in conjunction with the industry and in accordance with the latest developments in the industry to raise the requirements on work safety and working conditions.  For instance, in the latest review of the Code, a requirement is added to stipulate that, before commencing any works in a lift shaft, a contractor must assess and confirm the working conditions in the lift shaft, in respect of temperature, ventilation and lighting to be suitable for the kind of works to be undertaken.  Moreover, the CIC also issued in January this year Guidelines on Safety of Lift Shaft Works to promote site safety.

At present, registered engineers and competent workers are normally employed on a monthly basis, which is more stable.  In addition to basic salary, they are entitled to various benefits and allowances.  As the above statistics show, the overall number of practitioners in the industry has remained stable in recent years.

In terms of the regulatory regime, with the support of the Legislative Council and the industry, the Lifts and Escalators Ordinance (No. 8 of 2012) (the Ordinance) was enacted in April 2012 and the main provisions will come into operation in mid December this year.  The Ordinance introduced a registration system for lift and escalator workers to recognise their competence, exert better control of workmanship, promote continuous self-development and replace the existing employment-tied competent worker arrangement, which provides workers with more flexibility in their choice of work.

(c)  To attract graduates with relevant engineering degrees to enter the lift and escalator industry and to join the ranks of registered lift and escalator engineers, the EMSD actively encourages lift/escalator contractors to set up engineering graduate training schemes, recognised by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, in order to provide the graduates with opportunities to obtain professional qualifications.

As regards workers, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) has been training new blood for the industry for many years through organising relevant skills training courses to complement the apprenticeship scheme for lift and escalator mechanics.  Moreover, the industry is also planning to collaborate with the Employees Retraining Board and the VTC to organise a Certificate Course for Assistant Lift and Escalator Mechanics to attract new entrants to the industry.

We will work with the industry and the CIC to monitor closely the situation and take measures, such as increasing training places, to timely address the manpower requirements of the industry.

Ends/Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:59