Hong Kong lawmakers bemoan gaps in HK$6.4 billion relief fund as some businesses and employees miss out

Kanis Leung
·3-min read

Some businesses, as well as many employees, are missing out on the government’s HK$6.4 billion (US$826 million) coronavirus relief package, Hong Kong lawmakers have complained.

With the civil aviation industry and training schools among the hardest hit, politicians on Friday urged officials to increase their efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Luk Chung-hung, who represents the Federation of Trade Unions, revealed his dismay at civil aviation being left out, a sector he described as “nearly 99 per cent dead”.

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He pointed to a union survey showing that those workers lucky enough to still have a job in the industry had suffered pay cuts, with some wage packets more than halved.

Doubling allowances for restaurants and beauty parlours, compared with the previous round, only benefited bosses and left some workers at risk after the wage subsidy scheme ended last month, Luk added.

“For the fourth round of anti-pandemic funds, its help is too little. Although it tries to be specific, there are quite a lot of people missing out,” he told a radio programme.

SCMP Graphic
SCMP Graphic

Luk’s comments added to the mounting discontent among industry leaders and businesses, who said the latest relief package was scant consolation for missing out on what would normally have been the busiest time of the year.

On Friday, the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong called the grant just a drop in the bucket, adding red tape meant some businesses had still not received the allowances they applied for earlier this year in the second and third rounds.

The government previously said the new money was specifically targeted at businesses and people suffering the most under the city’s tougher social-distancing rules.

When the fourth wave escalated late last month, the government tightened social-distancing measures. It abruptly ordered the temporary closure of beauty salons, massage parlours, gyms, bars and pubs, and entertainment venues, such as party rooms, cinemas and karaoke establishments.

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Restaurants were banned from providing dine-in services after 6pm. Schools were also shut, while most civil servants and workers in the private sector were asked to work from home.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said that only HK$2.8 billion of the total HK$24 billion offered in aid for the previous round was spent on struggling industries, and that smaller sum had doubled for the latest deal.

Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong chairman Lo Wai-kwok expressed concern over the fairness of how the resources were allocated.

While money was handed to private schools, which in this round included tutorial centres, training institutions for companies were not covered, a discrepancy that Lo said should be remedied.

Lo said struggling businesses had told him they just wanted to run their operations normally, but he warned that the economic impact of the health crisis would remain serious without restrictions easing on the border with mainland China.

Even though authorities on both sides of the border were opening up different business opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, the proposed measures offered little without the border reopening, Lo said.

He noted there had been calls to boost the city’s efforts in controlling the fourth wave of infections, with some people urging officials to “conduct mandatory virus tests for all residents”.

Support for mandatory testing from Lo’s camp has grown over the past few weeks, but the city’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has expressed reservations about the limitations, and even adverse consequences, of such a move.

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