Motion on “Protect Employee Safety under Inclement Weather”(2010.05.12)

Speech of the Hon K P Chan, JP at the Legislative Council on 12 May 2010 Motion Debate On Protecting Health and Safety of Employees at Work in Inclement Weather

MR PRESIDENT: This Motion proposed by the Hon Li Fung-ying is very meaningful. With climate becoming extreme, frequency of bad weather is increasing. So are risks and injuries of outdoor workers. Therefore, the Government should review rules and regulations for protection of workers in inclement weather timely.

In light of global warming, the eco-system is also changing considerably. Glacier and permafrost are thawing; the sea level is rising; occurrences of drought and flood are increasing. They are not only affecting agricultural production but also livelihood and the economy. As greenhouse gas emission is increasing, problems of air pollution are becoming serious. The health of mankind is inevitably under threat and Hong Kong is not impervious.

I am sure everybody remembers that no too long ago sandstorms of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia swept through Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Air pollution index readings at many air quality monitor stations in Hong Kong were at the record high of exceeding 500.

Many proposed Amendments to the Motion today are focused on protecting health and safety of employees under serious air pollution. In fact, air pollution in Hong Kong is getting so serious that it has become a deterrent to foreign investors. Professor Anthony J Hedley, Chair of Community Medicine of The University of Hong Kong told the media in a recent interview that air pollution in Hong Kong was no longer tolerable and he would leave the territory on retirement this month. In fact, the Professor has been doing researches on improving air quality in Hong Kong for many years.

According to Professor Hedley, the Government should take imminent measures that would have impending impacts. He proposes to provide higher subsidy to vehicle owners for mandatory replacement of pre-Euro and Euro-I diesel models. I fully agree. In my view, the Government should enhance such incentive plan. Owners are reluctant to replace their old vehicles for many reasons. For instance, they might have concerns for business future. An improvement in incentives is to provide an option for surrender and scrap. Thus, these old vehicles of high pollution would be withdrawn from the road and cease changing hands again. Mr President, Professor Hedley says that he is fortunate to have a choice of leaving Hong Kong. However, most people don’t and many of them even have to work in inclement weather. Both the employer and the Government have irrefutable responsibilities to offer them protection.

I always believe that employees are the most valuable assets of an employer. There would be no employer if there were no employees. Thus, employers should provide a healthy and safe environment for those who work for them and hassle-free workplace is essential.

The Hon Ip Wai-ming proposes a series of Amendments. I fully support the majority of them, including providing rest breaks or arranging rotations under inclement weather, stepping up inspections by Labour Department and requiring employers to take precautionary measures and to install necessary facilities for protecting occupational health and safety of workers. However, I have reservations on his proposal “to stipulate that employees who have contracted a disease attributable to work in inclement weather may be regarded as suffering from work injury and are eligible to statutory compensation”. This proposal needs further study because it is not easy to determine whether any sickness in question is both arisen from inclement weather and related to work. Moreover, it would impact on insurance premium. Employer bodies should be consulted.

Notwithstanding, as most of the Amendments deserve support, I would vote for them.

Mr President, with these remarks I support the Motion.

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