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Unions tell staff not to enforce smoking ban

Paggie Leung, SCMP

A government department’s staff union has made a last-minute appeal to its members not to enforce the city’s smoking ban – which is being extended today – but to perform only their original duties.

“We’ve issued a statement to our members, urging them to do our original duties,” said Gary Cheung Siu-wing, chairman of the Leisure Service Staff General Union.

Saying that enforcing the smoking ban was not among their original duties, Cheung said there were not enough employees to complete even their normal work. Hence, they had no time to perform the extra duty.

Today’s extension broadens the ban to include 48 covered public transport interchanges; and offenders will receive a fixed penalty of HK$1,500 instead of a summons.

Starting from today, 2,200 staff from the Leisure and Cultural Service Department, 700 from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and 430 from the Housing Department will be responsible for handing out fixed-penalty tickets to those who smoke in premises and venues under their management – such as libraries, wet markets, beaches and housing estates.

Cheung doubted if they had the legal right to issue the tickets, because over 90 per cent of them still had not got the new departmental warrant card. “Because it’s an extra duty … we need to have the warrant card before we can enforce the new ban,” Cheung said.

But a spokesman from the Tobacco Control Office said staff were empowered to enforce the law whether or not their new warrant cards were ready.

Also opposing the extra duty is the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s Staff Rights Union. Its chairwoman, Li Mei-siu, said it would stage a demonstration in Central today before filing a complaint with the Legislative Council’s complaints division. She said staff would not be able to enforce the ban because of their existing workload and concerns about personal safety.

“It’s not our role to do smoking control,” she said. “The government has ignored our safety and requested us to do the extra job without giving us more manpower and resources.”

For its part, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said its staff – in the foreman, hawker control officer and health inspector grades, as well as market assistants – had received training and attended experience-sharing sessions. It had also issued operational manuals and enforcement guidelines.

Mok King-po, the convenor of a coalition of Housing Department staff unions, said its members would accept the new role but more manpower and training should be given.

“I also want to call on all citizens to co-operate with us, which is very important,” Mok said.

Last week, the food and hygiene department issued a guideline to frontline staff, saying they should perform their original duties before enforcing the ban. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department also said that enforcing the smoking ban would not override the current core duties and work priorities of its staff.

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