LCQ16: Recovery agents for injured workers
Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kin-por and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung:
Recently, some workers who were injured at work have pointed out that in the public areas of various public hospitals’ departments which are responsible for making medical assessments for injured workers, branch offices of the Employees’ Compensation Division of the Labour Department (LD) as well as offices of the Occupational Medicine Unit of LD (such places), there are often some recovery agents or law firm representatives persuading, by champertous claims such as “no win, no charge”, workers injured at work to hire them for making compensation claims. According to the results of a questionnaire survey conducted by the Hong Kong Workers’ Health Centre in December last year, more than 60% of the respondents who were workers injured at work indicated that they had been approached by recovery agents or law firm representatives, and more than 70% considered it necessary to ban such persons from staying in such places. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of complaints received in the past five years by the authorities from workers injured at work about being harassed by recovery agents or law firm representatives in such places;
(2) how LD and various public hospitals currently deal with the situation of unauthorised persons staying in such places; whether the authorities will explore the setting up of restricted zones in such places; if so, of the details; if not, what other measures are in place to prevent workers injured at work from being harassed in such places;
(3) of the details of the publicity efforts currently made by the authorities to convey to workers injured at work the risks involved in hiring recovery agents and lawyers who engage in champerty; whether they will step up the publicity efforts; and
(4) of the respective numbers of suspected champerty cases relating to work injury claims investigations into which were conducted and prosecutions on which were instituted, by the authorities in the past five years and, among such cases, the number of persons concerned who were convicted and the details of these cases; whether they will step up the related investigation and prosecution efforts; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Government attaches great importance to the problem caused by recovery agents. To address the problem proactively, the Government has been enhancing public education, and stepping up law enforcement including investigation and prosecution.
My reply to the question raised by the Hon Chan Kin-por is set out below:
(1) The numbers of complaints received by the Government in the past five years from workers injured at work about being harassed by recovery agents or law firm representatives in the public areas of conducting medical assessment boards for injured workers in public hospitals, branch offices of the Employees’ Compensation Division and the Occupational Medicine Unit of the Labour Department (LD) (such places) are as follows:
(2) The Government has set up restricted zones in such places with details below:
(a) designating “no-staying zones” at the corridors and lobbies of branch offices of the Employees’ Compensation Division and the Occupational Medicine Unit of the Labour Department so as to prohibit unauthorised persons from staying there; and
(b) designating the waiting areas outside medical assessment boards as restricted areas during the conduct of medical assessment by individual public hospitals having regard to their circumstances and needs to deny access by unrelated persons.
In addition, the Government has implemented the following measures to prevent injured workers from being harassed by recovery agents or law firm representatives in such places :
(a) posting notices or posters to prohibit touting activities and raise public awareness of touting activities of recovery agents or law firm representatives;
(b) stationing of security guards and enhancing patrols in the vicinity of the public areas outside medical assessment boards. Security guards will ask recovery agents or other people distributing related pamphlets, if any, to leave;
(c) installing CCTV at the waiting areas of medical assessment boards to monitor and deter touting activities; and
(d) drawing up guidelines on the prohibition of touting activities.
(3) To increase public awareness of the risks of the activities of recovery agents, the Government has taken out various publicity measures to draw the attention of injured workers to the possible pitfalls in seeking help from recovery agents and lawyers engaged in champerty:
(a) making arrangements for the broadcast of Announcement in the Public Interest (API) on radio and television since 2008. In 2013, APIs on this subject were broadcast for 1 258 and 1 110 times on radio and television respectively. The APIs broadcast will continue as part of our efforts to alert the public, including injured workers, of the risks of engaging recovery agents;
(b) posting notices or posters to prohibit touting activities in such places; and
(c) issuing notices to all injured workers to remind them to be cautious of touting activities of recovery agents and advise them to seek legal advice through proper channels such as legal counsels and the Legal Aid Department.
Apart from public education efforts, the Government has strengthened the training of front-line staff, reminding them to be vigilant against persons distributing touting leaflets and report such cases to the Police for enforcement actions where appropriate.
(4) A total of five reported cases of maintenance/champerty were received by the Police between 2009 and 2013. Three persons were convicted in two of such cases and one of them subsequently had his appeal allowed. The Police do not have any breakdown by nature of the claims.
To effectively tackle cases relating to maintenance and champerty, the Commercial Crime Bureau of the Police has specifically set up a Maintenance and Champerty Focus Group to prevent and combat such crimes proactively. As maintenance and champerty are against the law, the Police has been calling on the public to report such offences and provide information.