Employers may be allowed to fire workers who refuse to receive a Covid-19 vaccination without reasonable excuses, as the government tabled amendments to the employment bill to the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday.

If passed, the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2022 will also ban employers from firing or changing employment terms for employees unable to attend work while under quarantine or lockdown.

A man gets his Covid-19 vaccine in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Under the amended bill, workers would be able to file compensation claims over unreasonable dismissal if they were fired for missing work because of Covid-19 lockdowns or isolation.

The bill introduced by the government also proposed that any work days missed because of compulsory testing or quarantine orders could be considered as sick leave.

Not encouraging dismissals

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said in an online LegCo meeting that the amendments were not “requiring or encouraging” bosses to fire workers who could not meet vaccination requirements.

“In fact, employers should encourage workers to receive Covid-19 vaccination, in order to protect themselves, other employees, and the health of the community,” said Law.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong speaking in an online LegCo meeting on March 16, 2022. Photo: LegCo, via video screenshot.

The secretary also said that there was a sunset clause for the bill, and it would be abolished when the Covid-19 pandemic was under control and vaccination was no longer a “major public health consideration.”

The proposed bill also made exemptions on the vaccination requirement for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and for people who received valid medical exemption proof.

Hong Kong has been battling a fifth wave of Covid-19, with the city reporting 790,822 infections and 4,847 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic over two years ago.

The government has also imposed a Covid-19 vaccination pass scheme, which effectively banned unvaccinated citizens from a list of scheduled premises including shopping malls, supermarkets, religious venues, and restaurants.

The second reading of the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2022 has been adjourned in LegCo and will be debated at the House Committee.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.