COMMENTARY

Designation by Design:
A New Era of Workers Registration System

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the construction industry of Hong Kong at large are getting the city ready for implementing the designated workers for designated skills requirement, soon to be mandatory on 1 April 2017.

A major piece of policy is about to be enforced in Hong Kong that will result in a mutually beneficial outcome for construction workers, construction industry stakeholders and the industry at large. Workers Registration is the anchoring manpower policy of the construction industry in Hong Kong. The registration system under the Construction Workers Registration Ordinance (Cap. 583) (CWRO) recognises the skill levels of construction workers to raise their professional status, ensures the quality of construction work, reduces employment disputes, combats illegal employment, and provides reliable manpower data to facilitate manpower planning and training. Starting from 1 April 2017, the designated workers for designated skills provision will be implemented. Only registered skilled and semi-skilled workers of designated trade divisions will be allowed to carry out relevant skill work independently at construction sites.

This will be a milestone for the workers registration system. Such a development relies on the solid foundation built in the past decade. The origin was dated back to 2004 when the CWRO was enacted, and the registration of workers commenced in 2005. With a view to facilitating gradual adaption of stakeholders to the requirements, the regulation under CWRO was implemented in phases. In 2007, the Phase One Prohibition was implemented to forbid unregistered construction workers from carrying out construction work on construction sites. A worker possessing a Green Card, a valid certificate of safety training issued in accordance with the Factories and Industrial Undertaking Ordinance (Cap.59), may register to satisfy the requirements under Phase One. 

COLLABORATION
The construction industry is adapting to the registration requirement by embarking on a comprehensive study that includes consultation with industry practitioners to enhance the registration system. The consultation covered various aspects to advance the professional skill recognition of workers in a practical way.

Taking into account the specialisation of work carried out by workers, the division of skills should cater for their proven skills level. The construction industry has a prevailing practice of deploying workers of a trade to carry out other trade works of a similar nature or have workers without the full skill set carry out trade works of a minor scale and nature. All these were essential factors to be considered when amending the CWRO for the next level of enforcement.

By 2015, the CWRO was amended to target the remaining phases of designated workers for designated skills by 2017. Coming with the amendment ordinance is an update of the number of skills division to 139, with an aim to facilitate the skills registration of workers with specified skills when designated workers for designated skills is implemented.

The implementation of designated workers for designated skills will be done in stages. Major works will be regulated first in 2017. Maintenance work carried out under a term contract of any specified structure owned by— or otherwise belonging to—a public body or a specified body, as well as minor construction works follow later. This includes works under a construction contract with the total value of all construction operations not exceeding HK$10 million as well as Class I and II Minor Works under Building (Minor Works) Regulation to be regulated at a later stage, depending on the adaptation of the industry and implications of the policy on these types of works.

SENIORS
The mobility of construction workers always poses a question of a stable supply of workers with the right skills to meet the demand of construction works at any particular time. While the CIC has an objective trade testing system to certify the skills of workers, experienced professionals are not missed at the same time. Applications for senior workers registration arrangement was implemented from 1 April 2015 to 30 September 2016. It was a oneoff arrangement allowing workers with at least 10 years of experience in a relevant trade division to apply for registration as a skilled worker within the 18-month window.

PUBLICITY
Workers are strongly encouraged to obtain recognition for their skill sets. With an objective accreditation in place, workers equipped with a professional skill set in a specified trade are recognised. Workers can obtain the relevant qualifications through trade testing with standard sets of skill levels for each trade division. To ensure a smooth implementation of the new requirement, the CIC is rolling out an extensive publicity campaign covering all walks of life. For construction workers, an outreach team was set up to facilitate eligible workers who are applying for registration at their workplaces. Seminars and workshops were held to explain the requirement to employers and how they can comply with it. Other sectors of the industry were engaged through different networking events and direct mailing of information. The general public is also a huge potential source of contacts of their target group. The mass media such as television, radio, newspapers and billboards in the downtown are effective channels for promulgating messages.

The CIC also works with industry practitioners for site trials as designated workers for designated skills has already been implemented. Such trials would increase front-line staff’s understanding of the new requirement and at the same time spot any deficiency early to better prepare for the actual implementation.

UPLIFT
The designated workers for designated skills provision is a milestone for Hong Kong’s construction workers and their employers. Industry stakeholders in general shared the belief that with the refinement to register workers according to their relevant skills, the quality and standards of the construction industry will continue to improve, which can benefit the longterm development of the sector. At the same time, the status of workers will gradually rise with the professional image projected by designated workers for designated skills, attracting more new entrants to join the industry and contributing to the sustainability of manpower in the long run. How can such a change be implemented? From now until 1 April 2017, the CIC and its industry counterparts are moving ahead to get workers trained, registered and in compliance. The CIC and Hong Kong’s industry stakeholders are working together to fill the skill gap and prepare themselves in a united front towards a sustainable and prosperous future for Hong Kong.


OI YEN LEE
MBA, BA, BBA(ACC&FIN),

FCCA, CPA
Oi Yen Lee is an Assistant Director – Registration Services for the Construction Industry Council, with multidiscipline accountancy, financial audit, internal audit, risk advisory and public administration experiences gained from a range of consultancy projects and public policy promulgation projects. These included audit advisory work for a listed hotel group, internal control advisory for multinational companies, government departments and IPO projects. In recent years, she has been promulgating the Construction Workers Registration (Amendment) Ordinance and engaging the construction industry stakeholders to support the various initiatives therein. 

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