I have received complaints from members of the public pointing out that in accordance with government requirement, contractors must employ Labour Relations Officers ("LROs") to work on site for public works projects, but many such posts have been left vacant for a long time and some LROs are paid unequally for the same work. I had a meeting with the officials of the Development Bureau on September 18 this year, but could not resolve the problem. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that the Development Bureau indicated in its reply to the Panel on Development of this Council on October 16 this year that in respect of works contracts managed by the works departments, contractors are required to seek approval from Engineers/Architects of the works departments before employing or dismissing LROs to ensure that contractors cannot exert influence on the work of LROs, but I have learned that there are still contractors dismissing LROs without the consent of Engineers/Architects, of the number of such kind of complaint cases received by the authorities in the past five years, and the regulatory actions or penalties currently in place to prevent the recurrence of such kind of incidents;
(b) given that the Development Bureau indicated in its reply to this Council on October 8 this year that there were 15 LRO vacancies at that time and it would seek to enhance measures to require consultancy firms/contractors to nominate suitable persons as LROs for the approval of the works departments concerned within a specified period of time after commencement of the works, of the duration of such specified period of time; how the Government will penalise the consultancy firms/contractors which fail to comply with the requirement in making the employment arrangement; and
(c) whether it has prosecuted consultancy firms/contractors which did not employ LROs with the remuneration and benefits laid down by the Government, thereby giving rise to the situation of LROs being paid unequally for the same work and their labour rights not being protected; if it has, of the total number of prosecutions during the period from May 1 2006 to August 31 this year; if not, the reasons for that?
To enhance the wage protection for construction workers, the Government has progressively incorporated a series of measures into public works contracts since May 1 2006, which include employing Labour Relations Officers (LROs) to assist resident Engineers/Architects in monitoring the attendance and payroll records of workers to avoid non-payment of wages. These measures should effectively avoid problems of wages in arrears and detect potential labour disputes early.
We have clear requirements regarding the arrangements for employing LROs. For public works contracts whose administration has been outsourced to consultants, the consultants will include LROs in their resident site staff teams. In these cases, LROs will be employed by the consultants according to the established resident site staff arrangements and with salaries set within the range of the Government's Master Pay Scale (MPS) Points 3 to 15 with respect to their years of service and experience. If the works contracts are administered by works departments, contractors will be responsible for employing LROs under the requirements of the works contracts. In such cases, the remuneration for LROs will be determined by the contractors in the light of the labour market conditions. There is no express provision in public works contracts for the salary range of LROs. Currently, a total of 218 public works contracts have incorporated measures for preventing non-payment of wages. Among them, 151 (around 70%) and 67 (around 30%) contracts are administered by the consultants and the works departments respectively.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) In respect of the dismissal of LROs by contractors, among some 60 public works contracts where LROs have been employed by the contractors over the past five years, there were only two cases where the contractors dismissed LROs without the consent of Engineers/Architects.
In these two cases, the contractors submitted reasons for dismissal to the resident Engineer/Architect immediately after they had dismissed the LROs. The reasons were accepted by the Engineer/Architect. However, since the contractors had not sought prior approval from the Engineer/Architect for the dismissal of LROs in accordance with the contractual requirements, the Engineer/Architect issued written warnings to the contractors to express their concern over the incidents and urge them to avoid the recurrence of similar cases.
Under the current requirements, contractors who fail to seek prior approval from resident Engineers/Architects for the dismissal of LROs are subject to written warnings, and their performance in this respect will be reflected in their quarterly performance reports. This may affect their opportunities in bidding for government works contracts in future.
(b) The works departments have been closely monitoring the employment of LROs by consultants and contractors. The department concerned will ask the consultant/contractor to recruit a suitable person to fill a vacancy as soon as possible and ensure that a suitable resident site supervisory staff will act as LRO to discharge the duties in the meantime. Among the 15 vacancies as at October 8 mentioned by Hon Leung, eleven were filled by suitable persons in the past month while the recruitment exercises for the remaining four are in progress.
To ensure early employment of LROs so as to facilitate the implementation of measures for preventing non-payment of wages, the Development Bureau intends to make it a requirement in newly awarded consultancy/public works contracts that consultants/contractors have to nominate suitable persons as LROs for the approval of the works departments concerned within 14 days after commencement of the works. The works departments will also remind the consultants/contractors that they have to employ LROs within the specified period of time, otherwise their performance in this respect will be reflected in their quarterly performance reports. This may affect their opportunities in bidding for government works contracts in future.
(c) A simple answer to the third part of the question is no prosecution has been instituted as the employment of LROs is not a legal requirement but a contractual arrangement. As mentioned above, there are two different kinds of arrangements for employment and remuneration of LROs under the existing contractual system. For LROs employed by consultants, their salaries are set within the range of MPS Points 3 to 15 according to guidelines and there is no violation of any regulation. As for LROs employed by contractors, their remuneration is determined in the light of the labour market conditions and the Government has not laid down any requirement in this respect, so there is no violation of any regulations. That said, in consideration of the unique function of LROs in the execution of the works, we intend to introduce into new public works contracts a relatively consistent arrangement for the employment of LROs.
Ends/Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Issued at HKT 16:11