Civil service college plan won’t force out disabled Hong Kong teens, labour minister says
- Government plan proceeding despite more than 1,200 people signing a petition opposing it
- Estimated to cost up to HK$7 billion, the college is slated for completion in 2026
Hong Kong’s labour minister defended a government plan to shut down a job training centre for disabled teens to make way for a new civil service college, despite more than 1,200 people signing a petition opposing it.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong on Saturday argued officials were not forcing the youth out and stressed that current students would not be affected.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address on October 10 said the government had identified an 11,000 square metre site in Kwun Tong that could be redeveloped into a civil service college featuring upgraded training facilities for employees to better deliver public services.
Estimated to cost between HK$6 billion and HK$7 billion (US$892 million), the college is slated for completion in 2026. It will include a district health centre and other community facilities.
However, the site is now home to Shine Skills Centre, an institution that offers vocational training programmes for people aged 15 or above with disabilities. Law said the school would have to be demolished in 2021.
In response to media inquiries, the Vocational Training Council, which runs the centre, said officials consulted them some months ago about their plans to set up the college on their premises.
“The site would be returned to the government in the fourth quarter of 2021, and the Shine Skills Centre would stop operations,” a statement read.
Instead, officials had identified a site in Kowloon for a new vocational training centre providing more admission spaces to be placed, which would be up and running by September 2021.
The new centre would be run by NGOs subsidised by the Social Welfare Department, VTC said.
Appearing on a radio programme on Saturday morning, Law said the plan was not just about setting up a college.
“It is about an overall renewal of the Kwun Tong area,” he explained, noting several buildings near the site were slated for redevelopment. The building that houses the Shine Skills Centre is 50 years old, he added.
“Even if we don’t do anything, even if we don’t set up a civil service college there, the building needs to be redeveloped,” he continued. “And when that happens, they will have to shut down for at least three to five years.”
Law said the some 650 full-time and part-time students who spend a two-year term at the centre would not be affected. He described that part of the plan as most important.
He reiterated that arrangements would be made for the affected students who would be enrolling in 2020. They could choose to finish the remaining year of their education at another integrated vocational training centre.
Another option for the affected cohort would be to study an “intensive” version of their courses in one year, instead of the original two, Law said.
As for some 80 staff members at the Kwun Tong centre, VTC said it would “review its manpower planning and staff arrangements, while keeping in close contact” with them.
The petition is spearheaded by seven democratic lawmakers, who have accused the government of not consulting staff, parents and trainees. They have also raised concerns that relocating the school would cause difficulties for those with physical and mental disabilities, who would have to adapt to a new environment.
“The government is forcing the disabled to make way for the training of civil servants,” the online petition stated. “This obviously doesn’t make sense.”
Labour Party legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung criticised Law’s proposal and called for more details on the plan.
“Is it a must to put the civil service academy on that spot?” he asked. “Is it a must to replace an institution that offers higher education to the disadvantaged?”
Cheung also questioned Law’s version of how the government would manage alternative arrangements for the affected trainees.
“The seamless transition proposed by the secretary for labour and welfare this morning is a complete lie,” the lawmaker said.
According to VTC’s website, the centre offers full-time and part-time programmes to equip students with vocational skills in business, information technology and the service sector.
Part-time classes include Chinese dim sum making, video editing and hotel housekeeping.
Additional reporting by Kanis Leung