Hong Kong’s two largest supermarket chains will dish out food coupons and other perks to shoppers from October in exchange for their multimillion-dollar share of wage subsidies under the government’s coronavirus relief scheme.
Dairy Farm International’s Wellcome supermarkets will roll out HK$120 million (US$15.4 million) worth of sweeteners, including cash coupons, meal vouchers and cash donations to the needy, while keeping the price of 300 daily necessities unchanged for six months, it said on Tuesday.
ParknShop, backed by tycoon Li Ka-shing, said it would offer HK$40 million worth of food coupons to about 200,000 people, including needy families, the elderly and the disabled, with HK$200 vouchers to be budgeted per person next month.
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The retailers promised to give back to the needy after the government made it a condition of their application for the latest round of wage subsidies under its HK$81 billion Employment Support Scheme. The government argued that supermarkets were among the few industries that had benefited from coronavirus-related social-distancing measures, which forced more people to work and eat at home.
The supermarket chains said they would give away the offers through non-governmental organisations.
Both supermarket chains applied for the latest round of wage subsidies, which covers September to November, but have yet to reveal how much they were granted.
In the first tranche of the scheme, ParknShop received HK$162 million in wage subsidies between June and August for at least 8,215 employees. Wellcome and other sister companies such as 7-Eleven and Mannings stores under Jardine Matheson’s Dairy Farm International, got nearly HK$400 million in the same period for 21,611 workers.
A government spokesman said Wellcome received HK$184.5 million under the latest round of subsidies to keep 10,149 jobs, while ParknShop pocketed HK$161.96 million to keep 8,215 people on the payroll.
He said the government approved the latest subsidies after taking into consideration the chains’ proposals for giving back.
The government spokesman added that the pair were required to rebate at least half of the subsidies they obtained in the second tranche. Wellcome has committed to giving back about HK$100 million to the community, or 54 per cent of the value of their subsidy, and ParknShop has offered to give back HK$81 million, or 50 per cent of theirs. All the rebates, which are required to benefit the underprivileged groups, customers and frontline staff, must be given away by the end of this year.
AS Watson (Asia and Europe) CEO Malina Ngai said the ParknShop food coupons would be distributed through 20 NGOs by the end of October.
A Wellcome spokeswoman said the chain would distribute 1 million cash coupons and 1 million meal vouchers to the needy, with details still to be worked out.
To help vulnerable groups, Wellcome will also donate HK$5 million by matching any donations made by the more than 2 million users of its bonus points programme Yuu.
From the end of September, the supermarket chain will freeze the prices of more than 300 daily essential items for at least six months, with the goods to be revealed in due course.
There are 331 Wellcome supermarkets and 260 ParknShop stores in the city.
Lawmakers, however, were not impressed by the offers.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen, of the Federation of Trade Unions, questioned why the government had failed to come up with measures to help the unemployed.
“The two supermarket chains collected so much from the government and gave back too little,” she said. “They should offer more.”
She said Wellcome should cut the prices of the 300 items, rather than freezing them, and the two retailers should offer more buy-one-get-one-free items.
While legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, of the opposition Labour Party, said it was good that the poor were getting help, he also criticised the supermarkets’ offerings as too little to offset the subsidies, which came from taxpayers.
“It is good news that the needy will be given food vouchers,” he said. “But this is what the companies should have done as corporate social responsibility. The wage subsidy scheme, which subsidises multinational companies, is flawed, and it is ridiculous the government forced them to give back to society after granting them the subsidies.”
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said over the weekend that the wage subsidy scheme would not be extended for the sake of fiscal prudence.
This article Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s two largest supermarket chains to dish out cash coupons in exchange for wage subsidies, but critics say it is not enough first appeared on South China Morning Post