I move the second reading of the Occupational Deafness (Compensation) (Amendment) Bill 2002.
2. The Bill aims to introduce a package of measures under the Occupational Deafness Compensation Scheme to improve the benefits of employees suffering from noise-induced deafness by reason of their employment in specified noisy occupations. The Scheme was set up in 1995 under the Occupational Deafness (Compensation) Ordinance. To be eligible for compensation under the Scheme, a person must be suffering from sensorineural hearing loss amounting to a specified level and must fulfil certain conditions relating to their employment.
3. These improvement measures are formulated by the Administration on the basis of a comprehensive review by a working group which includes members of medical and audiological professions as well as representatives of employers, employees, and the Government. Due consideration has also been given to views expressed during the consultation period.
4. The Bill proposes six improvement measures. First, we propose to raise the current minimum and maximum levels of compensation which have been set with reference to the wage level in 1994 when the proposal to set up the Scheme was introduced into this Council. Having regard to the wage movements from 1994 to 2001, we propose to raise the minimum compensation from the existing level of $248,000 to $341,000 and the maximum from $1.44 million to $2.016 million so as to preserve the value of the compensation. This is in line with the adjustments of compensation levels under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance and the Pneumoconiosis (Compensation) Ordinance.
5. Secondly, the Bill proposes to revise upwards the existing scale of percentages of permanent incapacity for different levels of hearing loss suffered by eligible claimants. Under the Ordinance, the degree of noise-induced hearing loss suffered by a claimant is determined by the Occupational Deafness Compensation Board and is translated into a percentage of permanent incapacity in accordance with a Schedule under the Ordinance. The resultant percentage of permanent incapacity is used for calculating the amount of compensation. By raising the existing scale of percentages of permanent incapacity, the amount of compensation payable will in effect be increased in the majority of cases. The revision is proposed with reference to the scales adopted by Singapore and the United Kingdom.
6. Thirdly, the Bill proposes to provide successful claimants under the Scheme with reimbursement of expenses incurred in purchasing, repairing and replacing hearing assistive devices. This would help them overcome their communication difficulties and, hence, barriers to employment. There will be a maximum limit of reimbursement in aggregate per applicant.
7. Fourthly, the Bill proposes to empower the Occupational Deafness Compensation Board to conduct or finance rehabilitation programmes for the benefit of occupational deafness sufferers. The purpose is to help employees suffering from occupational deafness to overcome obstacles caused by the disability at work and in life.
8. Fifthly, we also suggest expanding the coverage of the Scheme by adding the following four noisy occupations to the existing list of 25 noisy occupations under the Ordinance -
(a) slaughterhouse employees working near the point of electrocution of pigs;
(b) mahjong parlour workers employed wholly or mainly to play mahjong;
(c) bartenders and waiters working near the dancing area in discotheques; and
(d) disc jockeys working in discotheques.
The expanded list is proposed following noise surveys on 43 work processes or posts and making reference to the noise survey report of Singapore on disc jockeys.
9. Sixthly, the Bill includes a proposal to disregard no-pay leave taken with the consent of the employer during the last 12 months of employment in aggregate for the purpose of calculating the average earnings of the claimant and, hence, determining the compensation payable, on a par with the existing arrangement in respect of maternity leave and sick leave.
10. The proposed improvement measures will lead to increased payouts from the Occupational Deafness Compensation Fund, estimated to reach $50 million compared to about $22 million per annum before the amendments.
11. On the income side, the current levy of 2.3% on the employees' compensation insurance premium paid by employers will be reduced to 1.2% for five financial years between 2002-03 and 2006-07. Thereafter, the levy rate will become 1.8% as separately proposed under the Employees Compensation Assistance (Amendment) Bill 2002 which was introduced into this Council on 27 February 2002. On current premium level, a levy rate at 1.8% will generate an annual levy income of about $52 million. Given the healthy reserve of the Board and the stable levy income, the Board should be able to implement all the improvement measures even with the proposed reduction of levy.
12. Madam President, the above improvement measures have gone through thorough deliberations by the Labour Advisory Board and the Occupational Deafness Compensation Board. In the interests of employees suffering from occupational deafness, I commend the Bill to Honourable Members.