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Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022

Pushback on $10m penalty for work-safety violations

Authorities are standing their ground and pushing to raise the maximum penalty for occupational safety violations to HK$10 million to keep the construction industry on its toes, says labor and welfare undersecretary Ho Kai-ming told lawmakers.
It came after Election Committee lawmaker Chan Siu-hung submitted an amendment bill proposing that the maximum fine be HK$6 million, saying there are concerns the penalty may incur operational risks to the industry.

At a Legislative Council bills committee meeting on the occupational safety and occupational health legislation (miscellaneous amendments) bill 2022, Chan said he was not opposed outright to a HK$10 million fine. He added: "But the government has not provided ample justification as to why the maximum penalty should be raised to HK$10 million."

Bills committee meetings on the matter have been ongoing since the Labor Department proposed raising the maximum fine to HK$10 million from HK$500,000 in May.

It came about following the Ombudsman's investigations into the Labor Department, Buildings Department and the Development Bureau to evaluate the government's enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations two weeks ago.

Earlier last month, a tower crane on a Sau Mau Ping construction site collapsed, killing three and injuring six.

Chan said raising the stakes by subjecting potential offenders to a HK$10 million fine would place extra stress on small and medium enterprises, citing cases in Britain and Singapore that demonstrated no difference in the frequency of serious accidents by raising penalties.

But Ho said raising the penalty to HK$10 million would further deter contractors from allowing occupational hazards, while making construction sites safer.

"It would be a deterrent, not a punishment. Contractors viewing that sum as lost capital need not be so calculating," Ho said.

Lawmaker Lam Chun-sing, who is also the chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labor Unions, said it came as a shock that calls to lower the proposed penalty came so late into discussions.

"The government should stand its ground in the face of amendments proposed by lawmakers. It has to communicate with lawmakers and win support from them," Lam said.
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