Hong Kong budget: HK$2.7 billion jobs outlay largely aimed at training programmes, employer subsidies

Chan Ho-him

Hong Kong’s newest budget has set aside HK$2.7 billion (US$347 million) to bolster efforts to create and retain jobs amid the economic downturn, with HK$200 million of the amount aimed at the city’s struggling construction sector.

But despite a climbing unemployment rate the government has predicted could hit 4 to 5 per cent this year, most of the new measures will not directly help those out of a job.

A government source explained that the HK$10,000 cash handout for permanent residents announced on Wednesday was already providing a boost to the jobless, saying it was the most efficient and quickest way to put money into their hands.

Hong Kong’s construction sector is estimated to have lost as many as 50,000 jobs since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Photo: Felix Wong

Instead, the vast majority of the cash earmarked towards jobs will take the form of enhanced training programmes and new subsidies for employers.

About 4,000 young people, elderly and disabled persons, for instance, stand to benefit from HK$30 million in funding that will be injected into three existing employment programmes, offering employers an additional HK$1,000 a month in on-the-job training allowances for new hires.

Under the existing employment programme for those 60 or above, employers can access up to HK$4,000 subsidy per month, or HK$48,000 a year, when hiring elderly jobseekers. Under the new measure, that sum would increase to HK$5,000 each month.

The lion’s share of the employee support portion of the budget – HK$2.5 billion – will go toward bolstering existing vocational, innovative and generic skills-training programs for the unemployed and underemployed.

Activists and members of the League of Social Democrats protest for financial aid for the unemployed outside the Legislative Council on February 26. Photo: Jonathan Wong

The changes will see the maximum monthly training allowance per person jump from HK$4,000 to HK$5,800 per person, something expected to benefit more than 40,000 people a year.

Also new to Wednesday’s budget was the decision to allow the Construction Industry Council (CIC) to draw HK$120 million from its levy income – funds generated on building projects topping HK$3 million – to provide subsidies of up to HK$20,000 for some 6,000 small and medium-sized contractors and subcontractors.

The sector has been as hard hit as any by the coronavirus outbreak, with as many as 50,000 Hong Kong construction workers losing their jobs over the past few months.

Union says coronavirus has left 50,000 Hong Kong construction workers jobless

An additional HK$80 million will be granted by the CIC to provide training allowances as high as HK$10,000 for up to 3,000 underemployed construction workers.

Chan Pat-kan of the Construction Site Workers General Union on Wednesday welcomed the budget’s support for the sector’s workers, saying he believed many would apply for the training courses now that the allowances had been increased.

Chow Luen-kiu, former chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union, also said he believed financial aid provided to the sector would benefit workers, as contractors able to access the HK$20,000 subsidy would be less likely to lay off employees.

“Workers are more concerned about whether there is work to do. Each day they can earn more than HK$1,000,” he said. “If [construction] companies can withstand financial pressure, it will benefit workers, who will not be out of a job.”

Workers are more concerned about whether there is work to do … If [construction] companies can withstand financial pressure, it will benefit workers

Chow Luen-kiu, former construction union chairman

But community organiser Sze Lai-shan, of the advocacy NGO Society for Community Organization, was less enthusiastic about the budget moves, saying she believed most of the new measures set to benefit existing companies would fail to create new job opportunities amid the steep economic downturn of recent months.

Separately, more than HK$112 billion was allocated to the education sector on Wednesday, including HK$150 million earmarked for paying the examination fees for candidates sitting for the 2021 university entrance Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams – the third year in a row that measure has been implemented.

Another HK$2.2 billion will go towards providing a HK$2,500 grant to Hong Kong students regularly from 2020/21.

Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said paying examination fees for DSE exams was an expected but welcome move, saying it would benefit students, especially pupils from low-income families.

This article Hong Kong budget: HK$2.7 billion jobs outlay largely aimed at training programmes, employer subsidies first appeared on South China Morning Post

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