Employers who are solvent but ignore orders to pay outstanding salaries or benefits to workers would face prosecution if an amendment to the Employment Ordinance is passed. The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2009 will be published tomorrow and will go before the Legislative Council on July 8. It provides for penalties of up to HK$350,000 and three years' jail for employers who can afford to pay but wilfully and without reasonable excuse ignore orders from the Labour Tribunal or Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said: 'The problem of some employers evading their responsibility to comply with awards by the tribunal has been a long-standing issue and has caused grave public concern. The creation of the new offence will provide a strong deterrent and send a clear message to the community that defaulting on tribunal awards is a serious offence.' Mr Cheung said the bill only targeted ruthless employers who were financially sound and deliberately refused to settle outstanding wages. 'If employers have economic difficulties and are not able to pay workers, the workers can apply to the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund,' he said. Between July last year and May this year, the Labour Department received more than 2,800 requests for help from workers whose employers ignored rulings by the tribunal or the board. 'Workers can also take their cases directly to the Labour Tribunal, so the Labour Department's data cannot show the whole picture,' a government source said. 'It is quite difficult to estimate how many prosecutions will be made once the bill becomes effective, as some workers might apply to liquidate their employers' companies or some might just fight for the pay themselves or settle the matter with their employers in private.'