Unemployment trail left by Covid-19, Hong Kong protests leads hundreds to job fair

Rachel Yeo
·4-min read

Before Covid-19 and last year’s anti-government protests, 35-year-old Indian Hongkonger Kitty Kaur was running her own Tsim Sha Tsui guest house.

But the economic shock waves from those crises led to the closure of her business and a long, fruitless search for alternative ways of making a living.

She was one of 1,250 jobseekers, as of late afternoon on Wednesday, attending the first of a two-day job fair at Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai, a Labour Department event showcasing 2,500 vacancies.

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Hong Kong jobless rate hits 6.4 per cent, highest in nearly 16 years

Kaur’s guest house went to the wall in March after six years in operation, with the downturn making it difficult to cover the monthly rent of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,450), on top of staff costs and management bills.

“When the protests started last June, the customers became afraid and I got many cancellations. Then the virus started, and business just got even slower,” she said.

Kaur has focused her job hunt on administrative-related work, but has been unsuccessful despite searching for more than a year, since the impact of the demonstrations, sparked by the since-withdrawn extradition bill, first threatened her business.

Hong Kong’s economy has been pounded by a combination of US-China tensions, the coronavirus pandemic and anti-government protests. Photo: Sun Yeung
Hong Kong’s economy has been pounded by a combination of US-China tensions, the coronavirus pandemic and anti-government protests. Photo: Sun Yeung

“I went through websites and there are many job positions showing. But when I applied, I didn’t even get a reply,” she added.

“I prefer to have my own business, as working hours are more flexible. But there’s a lot of pressure, because Hong Kong is getting more expensive, yet the number of jobs out there is not increasing.”

Unemployment in Hong Kong stands at 6.4 per cent, according to official figures released earlier this month, a record high for nearly 16 years.

Six months ago, Ho Mei-yan, 23, unexpectedly lost her full-time cashier job at a chain convenience store, which was hit hard by the pandemic.

Currently living off her savings, she was also at the fair on Wednesday desperately looking for work.

“I’m very lost, and this is the first time I encountered something like this. I’m losing motivation, as companies don’t need me and even the most ordinary jobs are hard to find these days,” said Ho, who has applied for dozens of roles, mostly in the catering industry.

Some 1,250 Hongkongers had visited the job fair, as of 4.45pm on Wednesday. Photo: Nora Tam
Some 1,250 Hongkongers had visited the job fair, as of 4.45pm on Wednesday. Photo: Nora Tam

“Economically, there’s been a lot of pressure, I just want to find a job, and I don’t mind working in any industry,” she added.

The security and retail industries are among the 23 exhibitors looking to recruit staff at the fair, but almost half of the companies pitching up on the first day represented property management agencies, looking to fill posts such as property consultants and branch managers.

Ken Lai Kin-fung, assistant district director of Century 21 Goodwin Property Consultants, said the property management industry was not significantly affected by the pandemic given housing demand was always high in Hong Kong.

“Our industry generally has a high-turnover rate, so we are always looking for new people to generate business,” he said.

Lai added he saw about 40 to 50 per cent more jobseekers inquiring about the industry and hoped to recruit 20 or so new colleagues.

Some industries struggling through the pandemic were also looking for applicants.

Oasis Group, a community service organisation running two nursing homes and an elderly day care centre, plans to hire at least 30 people for the homes, according to Wincey Choi Wing-sze, who manages human resources for the organisation.

“Part-time or freelance carers may go to different centres, but because of Covid-19, there’s a higher risk of spreading the virus to others,” she said.

Filling these positions might also be challenging, as their nursing homes required specialised skills and certifications in carer training programmes, Choi added.

“For people switching industries, they may not have enough expertise or considerations when choosing to work in caretaking. People need to be familiarised with this industry, or else it’s easy for them to quit.”

Analysts warned on Wednesday that Hong Kong’s jobless rate could reach an all-time high by the end of the year without improvements to the economy. The record of 8.5 per cent was set in 2003, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic gripped the city.

Hong Kong’s economy slipped into recession nearly a year ago, with US-China trade tensions compounding the impact of the protests.

The latest gross domestic product figures from 2020 show a 9 per cent contraction in the second quarter from the same period a year ago.

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