Hong Kong minister defends social worker regulator shake-up, raises concerns over vetting of candidates with criminal pasts

Hong Kong minister defends social worker regulator shake-up, raises concerns over vetting of candidates with criminal pasts

Hong Kong welfare chief has defended plans to reform the local regulator for social workers, pointing to cases where the organisation has allowed candidates with past drug possession and trafficking convictions to register as members of the profession.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han told a radio programme on Wednesday there was an urgent need to reform the Social Workers Registration Board, noting authorities over the past two years had called on the body to improve but without success.

“In the application process to become a social worker or to extend their registration, there were some obvious cases where the public might think the board has deviated from their original purpose,” he said.

“For instance, some people had previously committed offences such as possessing or trafficking narcotics, but were allowed to carry on renewing their registration.”

The minister said that while such cases could be justified, he expressed concerns about those candidates being approved without issue, given board members had strong opinions about the applicants.

The Executive Council, the city’s key decision-making body, a day earlier backed proposed amendments to legislation that will allow the board to promptly deregister social workers convicted of certain crimes and permanently disqualify those involved in serious offences such as endangering national security.

It also approved a proposal to ensure most board members were government appointees rather than elected ones.

The board is currently made up of eight social workers elected by their peers, while another six seats are appointed by the government. The director of social welfare is an ex officio member.

The government’s proposed legislative amendments will increase the number of board members from 15 to 27, with the expanded body comprising eight elected members, 17 government-appointed ones, the director of social welfare and a public officer.

Sun on Wednesday questioned if the board was too concerned with protecting the interests of social workers, saying it should also consider the views of those they serve.

“We are doing this to protect the credibility of the entire board and the profession, we must make their composition more diverse,” he said.

But board chairman Ng Yut-ming said Sun had misunderstood how it handled the registration process for candidates with serious criminal records.

“From when the Social Workers Registration Board was established to today, we consider every application,” he said. “Even if the person has a criminal record, we will look through their records first.”

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun says authorities have given the board multiple opportunities to improve in the past two years. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Ng said some applicants had committed crimes in their youth but had seriously reflected on their past behaviour after re-entering society.

“For instance, the ‘Ten Outstanding Young Persons’ award had people who were convicted of drug possession and drug trafficking,” he said. “Does it mean that society should not give them a chance to turn over a new leaf?”

The board chairman stressed that the organisation carefully considered each case to determine if a person with a criminal record had made enough life changes to become a social worker.

Welfare minister Sun also responded to concerns that authorities had rushed proposals to reform the board without leaving time for a consultation with stakeholders.

“We see the urgency here, this administration has potential, we must be responsible, we also have to be administrative-led,” Sun said.

“We see that the Social Workers Registration Board has fallen short many times and had a lot of issues. They need to be corrected and they need to be dealt with.”



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