Following is a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 11):
Recently, some of the drinking water samples taken from a number of public rental housing estates, private housing estates and schools have been found to have a lead content exceeding the provisional guideline value set out in the World Health Organization's "Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality". Some members of the construction industry have relayed to me that large-scale replacement works of drinking water mains may need to be carried out for such affected buildings, but the relevant works will inevitably be delayed due to the already acute shortage of plumbers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the existing number of licensed plumbers, as well as the respective numbers of registered skilled workers, registered skilled workers (provisional) and registered semi-skilled workers who have registered for the trade of "plumbers" under the Construction Workers Registration Ordinance (Cap. 583);
(2) whether it knows the number of plumber training courses currently offered by various training providers, as well as the projected number of trainees completing such courses in each of the coming eight quarters;
(3) whether it will consider formulating specific measures to increase the supply of plumbers, e.g. by raising the training allowances, increasing the number of places of the training courses, and reviewing the contents of the courses to compress study time, etc., with a view to attracting more people to join the trade; and
(4) whether it has assessed the impact on the progress of the various types of public works projects in the next few years which will be caused by the replacement works of the drinking water mains to be carried out in the aforesaid affected buildings; if it has assessed, of the details?
The Government has all along been attaching great importance to the lead in drinking water incidents. The Task Force on Investigation of Excessive Lead Content in Drinking Water set up by the Development Bureau released its investigation report on October 31. The Hong Kong Housing Authority has also set up a Review Committee on Quality Assurance Issues Relating to Fresh Water Supply of Public Housing Estates to review the quality control and monitoring in relation to the installation of fresh water supply systems in public rental housing (PRH) estates. Its final report is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water set up by the Chief Executive-in-Council under section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance (Cap. 86) is conducting hearing on the issue. The Commission is expected to submit its report to the Chief Executive in mid-2016.
When devising long-term improvement measures for plumbing work, the Government will evaluate their impact on the plumbing trade and plumbers, including manpower supply.
My reply to the four parts of the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung's question is as follows:
(1) As at September 30, 2015, there were 2 950 licensed plumbers in Hong Kong. The number of persons registered as plumbers under the Construction Workers Registration Ordinance (Cap. 583) is shown in the Annex.
(2) Currently, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the Vocational Training Council (VTC) offer six training courses related to plumbers in total. Details are as follows:
The CIC offers four plumber training courses. Three of them are training courses for semi-skilled plumbers, including a regular one-year basic craft course, a full-time adult short course and a collaborative training programme jointly organised with the industry. The fourth plumber training course is an 18-month programme for training of semi-skilled plumbers to become skilled plumbers under a pilot scheme of the Advanced Construction Manpower Training Scheme (Structured on-the-job training) launched in September 2015. The numbers of graduates from these courses vary from quarter to quarter. The CIC expects that there will be about 270 trainees graduated from these courses in 2016 (Note: The course will offer 500 training places in total in 2016, but some trainees will only graduate after 2016. Moreover, the CIC has taken into account the difficulties in recruiting trainees and possible drop-outs in the course of training). As for the number of training places to be offered in 2017, the CIC will determine it in 2016 in the light of the manpower demand.
The VTC offers two plumber training courses. They are a regular three-year course of Craft Certificate in Plumbing and Pipefitting and a short-term course of Certificate in Plumbing Services (Hong Kong). The VTC estimates that these courses will offer about 400 training places in total each year for 2016 and 2017. Taking into account the drop out of trainees during the courses, the number of graduates will be about 225 in total each year.
(3) The CIC has increased the number of training places for semi-skilled plumbers from about 240 each year to about 500 each year from 2012 to 2016. To address the problems of labour shortage, acute ageing of workers and difficulties in recruiting trainees, since 2010, the Government has collaborated with the CIC to launch the Enhanced Construction Manpower Training Scheme, which offers enhanced training allowances to attract new entrants. As plumber is one of the trades with manpower shortage, trainees enrolling in the related collaborative training programme can receive a training allowance of $320 per day, which is higher than that of $150 per day offered for other regular adult short courses.
The Government has initiated discussion with the CIC on the issues of plumber training in connection with the incident of lead being found in drinking water. We will also discuss to review the training allowances, course contents and numbers of training places for the related training courses as soon as possible to cope with the manpower demand. The Water Supplies Department (WSD) is also discussing with the VTC to enhance training on solder materials in the course for Craft Certificate in Plumbing and Pipefitting and licensed plumber management in the course for Certificate in Plumbing Services (Hong Kong).
(4) On September 24, the Housing Department and the WSD completed the systematic water sampling tests for PRH estates completed in or after 2005. Of the 4 740 water samples taken from these PRH estates, 91 samples, or about 2 per cent of the total, from 11 RPH estates were found to have lead content exceeding the guideline value of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Transport and Housing Bureau stated that for these 11 affected PRH estates, replacing water pipes with soldering containing lead will be the most thorough approach. However, it will cause some degree of inconvenience to about 29 000 households and will also involve a large amount of works. The Government will strive to not affect the progress of public housing construction but cannot preclude the possibility of some minor implications. Indeed, as the progress of tender approval by the Housing Authority has been affected by the recent lead-in-the water incident, the completion dates of individual projects are anticipated to delay for about one to two months.
Meanwhile, the Education Bureau and the WSD have started testing water samples taken from kindergartens by batches since September 10. Up to November 6, a total of 1 185 drinking water samples were taken from 780 participating kindergartens. Except for ten samples taken from the wall-mounted kettles of eight kindergartens, which accounted for 0.8 per cent of the total, all the remaining samples have met the WHO guideline value. Moreover, up to November 6, 505 drinking water samples were taken from 63 of about 70 participating public sector schools and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools. Except for seven samples taken from one secondary school, which accounted for 1.4 per cent of the total, all the remaining samples met the WHO guideline value.
All in all, the current water test findings show that overwhelming majority of the drinking water samples taken from the inside service systems of different types of buildings meets the WHO guideline value. The Government hopes that the plumbing improvement works that may be required for the affected buildings will not seriously affect the progress of and manpower deployment for other works. The Government will undertake detailed assessments and strive to minimise the impact through better planning and coordination.
Ends/Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:28