Coronavirus: Hong Kong to offer tourism staff workers about 2,000 jobs at vaccination centres

Denise Tsang
·5-min read

Hong Kong’s tourism workforce will be thrown a lifeline with officials set to offer its embattled staff members nearly 2,000 temporary jobs with the city’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, the Post has learned.

The full-time roles – with monthly pay ranging between HK$10,000 (US$1,287) and HK$40,000 – involve supporting operations at most of the city’s 29 government-run vaccination centres, in areas including crowd management and administration, according to sources. Part-time vacancies are also said to be opening, paying a minimum of HK$100 an hour.

Several labour unions welcomed the move as a way of easing the burden on industry staff and retaining talent, but one senior industry figure described the offer as “pitiful”.

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Travel industry legislator Yiu Si-wing said representatives would be meeting the Civil Service Bureau on Monday to discuss allowing tourism workers to take over the administrative roles at the community vaccination centres currently filled by public servants.

“The travel sector has been hoping for more employment aid from the government, and we were aware the vaccination centres are currently being staffed by civil servants temporarily,” Yiu told a radio programme. “We raised the suggestion for tourism workers to help out, and the bureau seems to be quite welcoming of it.”

Yiu said there would be an estimated 2,000 job openings at 20 vaccination centres, with 50 to 60 workers covering two-hour shifts at each venue.

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Hong Kong Tourism Industry Employees General Union chairwoman, Sara Leung Fong-yuen, said the offer was much-needed given she could not see the sector resuming business on a global scale this year.

“The industry needs jobs,” she said, pointing to the 20,000 tour escorts, guides and agents, as well as coach drivers – or 95 per cent of the sector’s total city workforce – currently out of work. “We are not optimistic that the border will reopen and tourism will come back this year.”

“Do they think we really want to work in these part-time jobs? ... It’s embarrassing and pitiful

Freddy Yip, Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners’ Association

Industries reliant on consumption and tourism were among the hardest hit. Unemployment across those sectors reached 11.1 per cent between December and February, far exceeding the overall jobless rate of 7.2 per cent, the highest since 2014.

The number of tourists in Hong Kong has dried up since the Covid-19 crisis broke out in January last year, followed by the lockdown of all but three of the city’s border checkpoints.

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In February, only 5,495 people visited the city, down 97.2 per cent year on year. In 2020, arrivals tumbled by 94 per cent to 3.57 million, a 36-year-low.

Leung said the employment offer represented a lifeline to the jobless, and an hourly pay of HK$100 was acceptable.

“The job offer is not too bad, many tourism practitioners have moved to part-time jobs with a pay as low as HK$50 per hour,” she said, adding that some tour guides and escorts used to earn HK$200 to HK$300 per hour.

“They know how to manage crowds and crises - skills that are relevant to controlling the pandemic,” Leung said. “The industry needs to retain talent for when tourism comes back.”

But chairman of the Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners’ Association, Freddy Yip Hing-ning, poured scorn on the idea of enlisting tourism sector workers for roles in vaccination centres.

“Do they think we really want to work in these part-time jobs? They have not given us a choice,” Yip said. “It’s embarrassing and pitiful. All of our frontline tourism workers have so much experience, do they think we want to do this? It’s all the government’s rules that have made it hard for us to work.”

Meanwhile, Leung said her union was in talks on jobs creation with other organisations, such as rail operator MTR Corporation and franchised bus service providers, Citybus and NWFB, which run local tour services.

Yip urged the government to allow cruise operators to run short recreational trips from Hong Kong to international waters, both as a concession to the industry and a respite for travel-hungry locals.

“The cruise industry has said if they aren’t allowed to operate they will no longer use Hong Kong as their home port and will move to Shanghai instead,” Yip told a radio show.

“And I’m sure if the government allows cruises, residents will also be happy to get on board to enjoy the sea air.”

Yip said such activities were already allowed in Singapore, Taiwan and Japan, and the Hong Kong government could simply follow how those jurisdictions were regulating the trips.

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