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Transcript of remarks by SLW on social welfare policy and California Fitness wage arrears
     Following is the transcript of remarks by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, on social welfare policy and California Fitness wage arrears after attending the 2016 Welfare Agenda and Priorities Setting Exercise today (July 20):

Reporter: What demands or issues have been raised in the meeting and what will be the Government's response to those issues?

Secretary for Labour and Welfare: The social workers and also the NGOs participating in the conference today raised a wide spectrum of issues covering various aspects of social welfare. I made the point that the Government attaches great importance to social welfare. In fact, social welfare ranks very high on our policy agenda. If you look at my allocation (recurrent expenditure on social welfare) over the past four years, when the current-term administration started its work back in 2012, my allocation of social welfare was only $42.8 billion. This year it has gone up, rocketed, to $66.2 billion. We are talking about $23.4 billion more, or 55 per cent increase. This is a very important increase. Also, we are now focusing on two particular areas: one is poverty alleviation, the other is preparing Hong Kong for a fast-ageing community. That's why we will be doing a lot in terms of building a caring, compassionate and cohesive society in the process, for example, promoting mobility of youngsters and mobility of children through the Low-income Working Family Allowance. This is a very useful example to underline our determination to really help alleviate working poverty and also promote upward mobility. We covered a lot of ground this morning. This is a very useful and important annual platform for us to exchange views, to brainstorm and to decide on priorities for the future directions in welfare policy.

Reporter: They want to establish some new social work teams in the newly established estates. What is the Government's response to that?

Secretary for Labour and Welfare: We are also in favour of the idea of reaching out and early intervention. Timely intervention is very important. But of course we need to identify the groups concerned. In fact the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund, the CIIF, is already doing it. And we certainly welcome proposals from these groups and organisations.

Reporter: And what is your response to some accusations saying that there are no long-term policies in tackling the poverty problems?

Secretary for Labour and Welfare: No. I think the comments are entirely unfounded and also unfair because now we've got the Commission on Poverty with layout of a clear blueprint. We have got a poverty line. We have also devised various policies. We have got various groups to tackle various cohorts of people in need. We have also rolled out the Low-income Working Family Allowance which is a flagship measure to tackle working poverty and also provide opportunities for upward mobility for children. So we have got measures already in train and we will be doing more in this direction.

Reporter: Is there any update on the California Fitness incident?

Secretary for Labour and Welfare: So far 540 former employees of California Fitness have approached and registered with the Labour Department. We will certainly help them. Also the Labour Department has been in touch with the provisional liquidator with a view to asking them to verify the wage records of the workers concerned. Once the verification work is completed, I think it is important for them to establish the bona fides of every employee so that the department would be in a position to trigger the process for granting ex-gratia payments under the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund, the PWIF, to help them.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:20
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