Date of sitting: 27 February 2002
Asked by: Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Replied by: SEM
The Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labour Organisation has, on five occasions since November 1998, urged in its reports the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ("HKSAR") to relax the conditions on eligibility to trade union office and the restrictions on the use of union funds as stipulated in the Trade Unions Ordinance (Cap. 332), and to give serious consideration to adopting provisions laying down objective criteria and procedures for determining the representative status of trade unions for collective bargaining purposes. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
of the reasons for not yet implementing the above recommendations of the Committee; and
In response to the recommendations of the Committee on Freedom of Association (the Committee) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), we have submitted four progress reports to the Committee in May 1999, January 2000, October 2000 and August 2001 respectively, giving detailed explanations of our position and measures we have taken.
On occupational requirements for trade union office, the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) agreed at its meeting in August 2000 that such requirements as stipulated in the Trade Unions Ordinance should not be relaxed. Members agreed unanimously that union officers should generally have experience in the trades concerned in order to have a better understanding of the interests and needs of union members. The decision also reflects the findings of a survey carried out amongst all of the 595 registered trade unions. Of the 242 unions responded to the survey, 74.4% did not support relaxing the occupational requirement for union office.
As for the use of union funds, LAB considered it undesirable to relax the use of union funds for political activities other than local elections. However, LAB supported a proposal to allow trade unions to make charitable donations to lawful organisations outside Hong Kong in accordance with their registered rules.
In respect of collective bargaining, it has always been our policy to encourage and promote voluntary collective bargaining in line with local conditions. We believe that collective bargaining is an effective means as long as it is carried out on a voluntary basis. As a matter of fact, paragraph 845 of ILO's publication "Freedom of Association" also states that "collective bargaining, if it is to be effective, must assume a voluntary character and not entail recourse to measures of compulsion which alter the voluntary nature of such bargaining." To step up efforts to promote voluntary collective bargaining at the enterprise and industry levels, a Workplace Consultation Promotion Unit was set up in the Labour Department (LD) in April 1998. At the enterprise level, we actively encourage employers to engage in effective communication with employees and trade unions and to consult them on employment matters. At the industry level, we are actively putting in place tripartite committees, which comprise representatives of trade unions, employers and LD, to discuss the general matters of the industry concerned. So far, LD has set up such committees for nine trades.
ILC No. 87 has been applied to Hong Kong since 1963 with modifications, which include:
(i) all officers of a trade union are required to be or have been engaged or employed in the trade, industry or occupation with which the trade union is directly concerned*; and
(ii) the funds of a trade union may be expended only for objects specified in national laws or approved by the public authority.
Apart from the above two modifications, we have, in fact, taken measures appropriate to Hong Kong to fulfil the obligations under the ILC.
ILC No. 98 has been applied to Hong Kong intact since 1975. All along, we have taken measures appropriate to Hong Kong to promote voluntary collective bargaining.
It is our established policy to progressively improve employees' rights and benefits. We also seek to maintain a reasonable balance between the interests of employees and employers, taking into full account the current social and economic circumstances and LAB's views.
* Flexibility has been provided in the Trade Unions Ordinance to allow persons from other trades to become union officers with the consent of the Registrar of Trade Unions.