Move to speed up checkpoints eats into lunch break

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2001, 12:00am

Immigration officers will lose their lunch break under a proposal to open more border checkpoint counters to cope with an expected increase in mainland visitors.

Assistant Director of Immigration Chan Ching-bor said the proposal aimed to maximise the deployment of manpower during peak hours by cutting the eight-hour daily shift of officers to seven. 'The lunch hour will not be included in the roster,' Mr Chan said.

While immigration officers might have to work non-stop for seven hours, toilet breaks would not be under scrutiny. He said disciplined services officers should be expected to work irregular hours, including having dinner or lunch outside usual mealtimes.

Under the proposal, which immigration officers were briefed on yesterday, the number of counters at the airport could be increased from 63 to 106 during peak periods, such as from 12.30pm to 1pm.

At Lowu, the number of counters during peak hours on Friday night would be increased from 129 to 161.

Mr Chan said the adjustment to the roster system was one of the measures the department was considering to cope with an expected increase in the number of mainlanders.

Other measures included simplifying procedures, an automated clearance system and making some travel documents machine-readable.

An additional 300,000 mainland visitors are expected to come to Hong Kong under plans announced in the Policy Address to lift the daily quota system for mainland tourists and relax the entry requirements for business people.

Mr Chan expected the change would result in a five per cent increase in the number of commuters to the Lowu checkpoint, the SAR's busiest with a daily average of 238,690 people crossing the border in the first half of this year.

Mr Chan said management was planning to implement the changes next month after getting feedback from staff. 'We hope we can reach a consensus with staff before we implement it,' he said.

He said the move was needed as the dozens of extra posts being created this year would not be enough to cope with the surge in workload.

One officer said: 'We hope the changes are not too harsh. The lunch break is a refreshment. Officers like me waking up at 4am to report for work at 7am at the border need to have a break.'