Ocean Park staff to take unpaid leave as Hong Kong attraction suffers from coronavirus closure

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Loss-making Ocean Park has told its entire workforce to take unpaid leave and slashed senior management salaries as the coronavirus adds to its financial woes.

In a fresh round of cost-saving measures, the Hong Kong theme park said on Friday that assistant executives would have to take eight days off without pay every month from March 1, compared with four or six days for other staff.

The resort in Southern district has been closed for an indefinite period since January 26 because of the Covid-19 outbreak, which had infected 93 people in Hong Kong as of Friday morning.

The measures follow a pay freeze from January for all 2,000 staff and the suspension of all but essential recruitment to avoid lay-offs.

Despite the temporary closure, the park said it still had to honour liabilities such as reimbursing those who had already paid for tickets, while new business was almost at a standstill.

The health crisis has exacerbated financial problems at the resort, which last month revealed the HK$400 million it had in the bank would run out this year.

Can Hong Kong attraction Ocean Park be saved from the brink?

The business said it could not repay HK$2.3 billion in commercial loans, and another HK$3.67 billion owed to the government, both due within the coming two years.

Bosses are in the process of seeking HK$10 billion from the government to reinvent the attraction.

Under the latest cuts, about a dozen top managers will have their pay reduced.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is also closed because of the coronavirus. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is also closed because of the coronavirus. Photo: Bloomberg

Wong Shuk-fan, chairwoman of the Ocean Park Employees’ Union, which represents about 300 staff members, said unpaid leave would be disruptive to the finances of many families.

“Many are paying mortgages, and are the sole bread winner in families,” she said.

She added the union, which was aware of the new arrangement on Thursday, was still gauging members’ responses before mapping out the next steps.

Ocean Park bailout will do more than ‘stop the bleeding’: tourism chief

The park, which operates as a non-profit organisation on a site provided for free by the government, has promised to revisit the cost-saving steps it has taken when the attraction reopens.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort on Lantau Island has also been closed since January 26, because of the public health crisis.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said since the HK$30 billion (US$3.86 billion) relief package was approved last week by the Legislative Council, the subsidy scheme of up to HK$80,000 for travel agents or owners of licensed guest houses had been open for registration.

The package was the government’s attempt to bail out virtually all industries across the board from the economic woes caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Of the 1,700 travel agents in Hong Kong, he said more than 60 per cent, about 1,100, had applied for the one-off grant of HK$80,000. Some 720 out of 1,800 owners of licensed guest houses had applied for the subsidy of either HK$50,000 or HK$80,000.

“We are now processing the applications and hope to hand out the subsidy to the applicants within March. We expect to complete the subsidy scheme within April,” he said.

Additional reporting by Cannix Yau

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