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LCQ15: Assistance to the unemployed

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (March 11):


     The latest seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate has risen to 4.6% and the number of unemployed persons has also exceeded 150 000.  It has been reported that the unemployment rate might reach 6% by the end of the year, with the Financial Secretary (FS) recently not ruling out the possibility of the unemployment rate rising to 8%.  There have been comments that in his Budget Speech delivered on February 25, FS had not proposed any new measure which would provide real assistance to the unemployed to undergo training and switch occupation.  Instead, he only indicated that he would earmark $400 million non-recurrent funding for the Labour Department to enhance and integrate its various employment programmes at present.  Moreover, applications for subsidy under the Continuing Education Fund are not restricted to unemployed persons and the subsidy has been capped at $10,000, while the target group of the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) is limited to people with education attainments of sub-degree or below, resulting in the middle-class or the professionals with higher education attainments being unable to benefit from its services when they become unemployed.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  whether at present it has any specific programme to assist the middle-class people who have become unemployed after the onset of the financial tsunami to switch occupation;

(b)  whether it will consider setting up an "interest-free loan fund for occupation switching" specifically for unemployed persons to apply, so as to finance them to take occupational value-added or occupation switching courses organised by tertiary institutions or training organisations according to their professions;

(c)  whether it will consider expanding the target group of ERB to include unemployed persons with any education attainments; and

(d)  of the principles adopted by the authorities for deciding which new occupation areas unemployed persons should switch to before providing them with retraining?



(a)  The global financial tsunami has caused the economies of many regions to contract, resulting in the loss of different categories of jobs and affecting a wide spectrum of people, including the middle class.  In face of an uncertain economic outlook, the middle class may have to consider adjusting their short-term employment expectations and grasp every available opportunity.

     The Labour Department (LD) will adopt multi-pronged measures to promote labour market efficiency and disseminate employment and vacancy information with a view to assisting job seekers find jobs as efficiently and as early as possible.  Under the 2009-10 Budget, the Government proposes to provide additional funding for LD to adopt a more proactive approach in providing employment assistance to employees who lost their jobs in redundancy or closure exercises amidst the financial crisis.  LD will contact the concerned employees and provide them with priority referral and job matching services to assist them to find suitable jobs.  LD will also organise thematic job fairs targeted at industries hard hit by the economic downturn and organise district-based job fairs at shopping centres or community halls to reach out to job seekers for the dissemination of vacancy and employment information.

     Moreover, LD will enhance the Employment Programme for the Middle-aged to assist middle-aged job seekers in re-entering the labour market as early as possible.  The improvement measures will include relaxing the eligibility criteria for joining the Programme in order to cover people with different education attainments and skill levels, increasing the level of on-the-job training allowance payable to employers, and extending the length of the subsidy period.

(b)  Unemployed persons who wish to pursue continuing education for self-enhancement may apply for subsidies under the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) and/or loans under the Non-means-tested Loan Scheme (NLS).  

     For CEF, Hong Kong residents aged between 18 and 65 who wish to pursue continuing education may apply for subsidies there under.  CEF is administered by the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA).   Applicants may claim reimbursement of 80% of the fees of any CEF registered course upon successful completion of the course, up to a ceiling of $10,000 for person.  

     As to NLS, individuals pursuing eligible continuing and professional education courses provided in Hong Kong by registered schools, non-local universities and professional and recognised training bodies may apply for loans to meet their tuition fees under the scheme.  NLS is also administered by SFAA.  The maximum amount of the loan is the tuition fees payable for the academic year.

     We consider that existing schemes already provide unemployed persons of different background with subsidy or loan for pursuing further education.

(c)  Over the years, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) has been serving the unemployed or those needing to upgrade their skills who are aged 30 or above and with education attainment of Secondary three or below.  Taking into account the relatively high unemployment rate among young people and the training needs of our workforce with sub-degree or below, the Chief Executive-in-Council decided in October 2007 that the eligibility criteria of the Employees Retraining Scheme administered by ERB should be relaxed to cover young people aged between 15 and 29 and people with education level at sub-degree or below.  The relaxation took effect on December 1, 2007.  About 2.7 million of Hong Kong's working population are now ERB's service targets and the Administration has no plan to further expand the scope of coverage of ERB.  

(d)  In developing and designing training courses, ERB will take into account all relevant information, including the local economic condition, latest statistics, manpower demands of individual industries and job vacancies etc, in order to identify job types and employment opportunities that are suitable for those who are unemployed or seeking jobs.  ERB will also consult employers, trade associations and professional bodies on the training contents and prospects of target job types to ensure that its courses keep abreast of market needs.

     Apart from meeting the eligibility criteria for enrolment and the relevant course requirements, unemployed persons who wish to enrol in ERB's full-time placement-tied courses are required to go through an admission interview conducted by the training bodies.  If an applicant is not considered suitable for admission into the course that he/she applies for, the training body concerned will advise, where appropriate, the applicant to consider other more suitable courses for him/her with a view to enhancing his/her chance of employment upon completion of training.

Ends/Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Issued at HKT 12:05


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