The Ombudsman has criticized the government for failing to crack down on restaurants operating illegally in industrial buildings, which could pose serious fire and hygiene risks.
While these eateries are operating with factory canteen licenses, which impose relatively loose regulations on hygiene and safety, many of them have been found serving the general public, news website hk01.com reports.
Holders of such licenses are supposed to provide services only to workers in industrial buildings, not to the general public.
However, between 2012 and 2015, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department only issued one verbal warning for violation of license conditions, showing that it has done very little in addressing the violations.
These eateries in industrial buildings are able to avoid paying hefty fees after changing land use to accommodate commercial operations.
Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing slammed the government for inadequate monitoring of these establishments and outdated legislation on factory canteen licenses.
Holders of factory canteen licences are not supposed to have direct entrance or exit to a public road, display promotional materials, or have transparent external walls such as glass windows, Headline Daily reported.
But many of these eateries were found to have ignored these prohibitions, the Ombudsman said.
Some of these factory canteen license holders even promote their outlets in newspaper and magazine articles. Some also provide party catering services and cooking classes.
In several undercover operations conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman, staff were never asked if they were factory workers when they purchased their meals.
In another inspection conducted by FEHD staff, customers in one factory canteen serving the public simply claimed that they were all factory workers, thus preventing the government from prosecuting the license holder.
Lau called for a review of the factory canteen licensing system, which was established in the 1980s and is now outdated.
Since the 1980s, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of workers in industrial buildings, but 65 percent of the factory canteens were opened after 2006, the Ombudsman said.
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