LCQ6: Employment support measures

     Following is a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Ip Wai-ming in the Legislative Council today (May 27):


     It has been reported that the Influenza A (H1N1) epidemic has spread to many countries and regions.  As many students will return to Hong Kong for their summer vacation from countries such as the United States and Canada, where the epidemic is serious, it is anticipated that the epidemic situation in Hong Kong will deteriorate.  Members of the labour sector have relayed to me that the situation will deal a blow to the tourism industry and the consumer market, and in turn aggravate the unemployment situation in Hong Kong further.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it will employ more people to undertake anti-epidemic work (eg street cleaning, free household cleaning for the elderly and disabled persons in need, as well as checking whether arrivals have influenza symptoms at the airport and cross-boundary checkpoints), recruit more ward assistants, enhance medical appointment escorting service, and create temporary posts for environmental greening, community betterment and provision of tourism, leisure, and cultural and arts services; if it will, of the anticipated numbers of additional persons employed for the various jobs, as well as the respective monthly salaries of those posts; and

(b) whether it will introduce new short-term training courses for the grass-roots and middle-level unemployed persons, and provide them with training allowance, so as to help them change occupation after training?



      Hong Kong's economic performance continues to worsen so far this year.  The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate released on Tuesday last week rose to 5.3% for the period February - April 2009.  While the increase in the unemployment rate has slowed, the rising trend persists mainly because of the notable weakening in labour demand arising from the global economic recession.  Since the outbreak of the financial tsunami in September last year, the Government has been striving on all fronts to introduce appropriate measures with a view to "stabilising the financial system, supporting enterprises and preserving employment".

     On preserving employment, apart from increasing the manpower for improving environmental hygiene, the Government will continue to promote infrastructure projects.  The Government plans to apply for funding from the Legislative Council (LegCo) for works projects worth $100 billion within the current legislative session.  So far, we have already secured funding approval amounting to $52 billion from the LegCo Public Works Subcommittee.  We hope to create more jobs in the short term so as to provide impetus for Hong Kongˇ¦s economy.

     "Supporting enterprises" also has positive effects on preserving employment.  For instance, in December last year we set up the Special Loan Guarantee Scheme with a guarantee commitment of $100 billion.  Under the Scheme, the Government undertakes to provide a guarantee of up to 70% for loans approved by participating lending institutions.   The Scheme has so far benefited some 8,000 businesses which altogether employ over 140,000 people.  

     We will continue to strengthen employment services.  LegCo Finance Committee has recently approved a new commitment of some $400 million for enhancing various employment programmes. The Labour Department (LD) will launch the enhanced and integrated employment programmes as soon as possible to help relieve the pressure on employment.  To facilitate local residents to seek jobs, LD would also continue to hold large-scale job fairs.  In fact, one is being held at Tsing Yi this Monday to Wednesday while another one is scheduled for June 5 in Tung Chung.  These two job fairs offer over 4 000 vacancies in total.

     My reply to Hon Ip Wai-ming's question is as follows:

(a) with the global economy still in an unstable state, the outbreak of Human Swine Influenza has no doubt added further uncertainty to, and increased the pressure on, the labour market.  Since the development of the epidemic in Hong Kong and other regions remains uncertain, it is difficult to assess with accuracy at this stage the impact of the Human Swine Influenza epidemic on the local labour market.  We do not consider it appropriate to make a premature judgment on the potential impact.

     Nevertheless, the Government will not let off its guard.  We will continue to closely monitor the situation on job creation and employment and proactively adopt a multi-pronged approach comprising measures on all fronts to promote economic activities in order to create employment opportunities.

     On the other hand, the Government has also planned targeted measures for the necessary anti-epidemic work.  The Financial Secretary announced yesterday that the Social Welfare Department, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and Home Affairs Department (HAD) are working out plans to promote environmental hygiene and publicise anti-pandemic measures.  Such plans will involve creating short-term posts and the additional funding required by these projects is around $300 million.  The Government will take into account the development of the pandemic and, if necessary, seek additional funding for new measures.

     Besides, the Department of Health (DH) and HAD have recruited some additional 500 staff for anti-epidemic work.  DH has also recruited more than 130 additional staff through the Aviation Security Company Limited to help distribute to and collect from visitors  health declaration forms.  The Hospital Authority needs not employ additional ward assistants at the moment, but will suitably deploy existing manpower and recruit additional staff in view of the development over the Human Swine Influenza and operational needs to support anti-epidemic work.

(b) At present, Hong Kong residents aged 15 or above with education at sub-degree or below may attend training courses funded by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB).  To meet the training needs of its target clientele, and in face of the financial turmoil and its adverse impact on local employment, the ERB plans to provide 123 000 training places in this financial year.  In addition, it has also reserved resources for providing an additional 20 000 places in anticipation of an increase in training demand.  About 60% of the planned training places, ie around 70 000, are full-time placement-tied courses targeting unemployed persons.

     Placement-tied courses provided by ERB are pitched at Qualifications Framework Levels 1 to 4 and currently cover a total of 24 industries.  The course length is approximately one to three months with total training hours ranging from 100 to some 300 hours.  Full-time placement-tied courses are offered free-of-charge.  Trainees who are able to meet the attendance requirement will be given a training allowance.  To meet the varying demands of its clients with different education levels and career aspiration, ERB has developed a total of some 120 new placement-tied training courses in 2008-09.  Through its training bodies, it will continue to introduce new courses geared to the needs of the employment market and provide placement service to help its trainees in securing jobs.  The ERB will also closely monitor the changes in the labour market and adjust the allocation of training places flexibly having regard to the latest development.  

     LD all along actively promotes youth employment. The Youth Pre-employment Training Programme (YPTP) and the Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme (YWETS) have been launched respectively in 1999 and 2002 to provide comprehensive pre-employment and on-the-job training to young people aged 15 to 24 with educational attainment at sub-degree level or below, with a view to enhancing their employability and helping them land on sustainable employment.

     To provide more focused training and employment support to youth with employment difficulties, YPTP/YWETS and the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF) collaborated to launch a new initiative in late 2008.  The LD/CIIF collaboration encourages the development of new projects, which flexibly and suitably integrate pre-employment and on-the-job training elements under YPTP/YWETS and social capital development strategies advocated by CIIF, with a view to reaching out to young people with employment difficulties, motivating their job readiness and preparing them for more sustainable development in the employment market.  It is envisaged that the approved projects under the LD/CIIF collaboration will be rolled out in the second half of 2009.

Ends/Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:44