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Bosses could be fined HK$10m and jailed two years over serious occupational safety breaches as latest bill passed

Bosses could be fined HK$10m and jailed two years over serious occupational safety breaches as latest bill passed

The maximum penalty of serious offenses under the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance has been increased from HK$500,000 to HK$10 million, alongside a two-year jail term, as the Legislative Council passed the third reading of a latest amendment bill on Wednesday night.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han described the vetting process of the Occupational Safety and Occupational Health Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2022, which lasted for eight months, as a roller coaster ride.

Sun also pointed out that the annual number of fatal industrial incidents remained at about 20 in the past decade. He believed there wasn’t any trend of declining because the penalty didn’t carry a deterrent effect.

Sun added the bar has been set higher for initiating prosecution of indictable offenses after the articles are renewed, as he addressed lawmakers’ concerns that the 20-time leap in the fine is not too much.

Before the third reading, Michael Luk Chung-hung from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said industrial incidents are not cold hard numbers as families are devastated by trauma that could never be made up.

It is also not fair that the company involved is only fined tens of thousands of dollars, he added.

Luk further pointed out that it is not harsh to fine a company HK$10 million if it implements no safety measures at all. The raise in fine cannot compensate anything to the decreased worker and can only be seen as one way of how justice is served.

He then referred to previous audit reports and suggested the Labour Department strengthening its patrols. He added the system of assigning a safety officer has to be improved as he found that many safety officers have only duties but no power at all.

Meanwhile, Peter Shiu Ka-fai from the Liberal Party said he believed the amendment bill will be passed in the end. Although there have been less voices opposing the amendment bill from the industry, it doesn’t mean all bosses agree raising the fine straight to HK$10 million at once, Shiu noted.

“Even one accident would be too many,” Shiu said. Yet, he questioned if a boss should take on all responsibilities if an employee repeatedly ignores safety reminders and protocols from the boss.

Shiu then asked the government to clarify how a boss will be held accountable over an industrial incident, and recommended stepping up promotion and education on safety awareness.
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