Independent legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said yesterday she intends to pursue a bid to see the levy on foreign maids scrapped even though the government has threatened to scuttle any debate on the issue by seeking a judicial review.
The levy was suspended for two years from August as part of government inflation-busting measures but is to be reinstated in August 2010.
However, Ip is proposing an amendment bill that seeks to ban it permanently.
The government maintains that scrapping the levy will have an impact on government expenditure, so Ip's move may breach Article 74 of the Basic Law. That prevents lawmakers from introducing bills related to public expenditure.
Should Legco chairman Jasper Tsang Yok-sing allow a debate on Ip's amendment, it said, the administration may seek a judicial review.
Ip said she had been urged by officials - she did not identify them - to drop her amendment bid. "But if I withdraw, legislators from the Civic and Democratic parties and former Liberal Party member Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen will put one forward," Ip said.
She said that when the government won a judicial review in 2006, the judge did not consider the levy to be a tax or general revenue but a fee to benefit local unskilled workers. She wondered why the government now claims it is a tax.
"It is a levy which everybody hates," she said. "The government should consider its unpopularity."
The HK$400-a-month levy was imposed in 2003 but has been suspended since August 1. It has so far generated HK$4.9 billion for the Employees Retraining Board, which was previously funded by the government.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung reiterated yesterday that more people will require the retraining service amid the financial tsunami, so the government may be required to provide extra funds to the board if the levy is scrapped.
"I hope legislators can consider first passing the resolution to suspend the levy for two years and discuss this matter later so as to maintain the good relationship between the administration and legislature," Cheung said.
Ip said the levy was introduced by the government in the hope people would hire more local maids. "There were 215,000 foreign maids before the introduction of the levy, and there are 250,000 now," she noted, saying that number showed the move had failed.