LCQ12: Employment support and job creation measures amid the epidemic

Following is a question by the Hon Ngan Man-yu and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):
     Regarding the 2022 Employment Support Scheme (2022 ESS) and the Job Creation Scheme (JCS) launched by the Government through the Anti-‍epidemic Fund, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the following information on 2022 ESS since its launch: (i) the number of applications (including the respective numbers of eligible and ineligible applications), (ii) the respective numbers of eligible employer applicants and self-employed person applicants, (iii) the number of beneficiary employees, (iv) the numbers of applicants whose core business (a) belongs and (b) does not belong to sectors in the Restricted List, (v) the respective numbers of recipients of "full subsidy", "half subsidy" and "elderly subsidy", (vi) the progress of disbursement of wage subsidies, and (vii) the respective amounts of administrative expenses involved and subsidies disbursed;
(2) given that applicants of 2022 ESS must undertake to employ sufficient number of employees in each subsidy month to fulfil certain criteria, of the number of employers who have been granted the wage subsidies and failed to fulfil their undertakings, as well as the reasons for such employers failing to fulfil their undertakings (including business closures) and the follow-up actions taken in respect of the cases concerned;
(3) of the following information on each round of JCS since its launch: the number of jobs created, the number of participating employers, the number of persons employed, the progress of the scheme, and the amount of expenditure involved; and
(4) given that some organisations have relayed that some of the time-‍limited jobs (especially graduate trainee positions) under JCS can enable young people to gain valuable work experience, but these jobs are only short-term posts, whether the authorities will consider regularising the scheme and introducing an extended scheme to subsidise employers to continue to employ staff recruited through the scheme; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     After consultation with the Civil Service Bureau and the Chief Secretary for Administration's Office, the reply to the question raised by the Hon Ngan Man-yu is as follows:
(1) The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) announced on March 18, 2022 the launch of the 2022 Employment Support Scheme (2022 ESS) under the Anti-epidemic Fund to provide wage subsidies to employers for three months (i.e. May, June and July 2022) to retain their employees, and also employ more staff when the business revives as soon as the epidemic situation permits. All employers who have participated in Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) Schemes or set up MPF-exempted Occupational Retirement (ORSO) Schemes on or before December 31, 2021 are eligible for the 2022 ESS, except employers listed in Part I of the Exclusion List (including the HKSAR Government, the Legislative Council, the Judiciary, offices of other governments and international organisations, specified statutory bodies and corporations, specified public organisations, government-owned companies or subvented organisations, etc.).
     The Employment Support Scheme Secretariat (the Secretariat) received a total of about 176 000 applications from employers (involving about 1.66 million employees) within the two-week application period from April 29 to May 12, 2022. There were a total of about 170 000 eligible employers, of whom about 10 per cent declared that their core business belonged to the sectors on the Restricted List (i.e. sectors which are less affected by the fifth wave of the epidemic). Moreover, 119 000 self-employed persons submitted their applications.
     As at the end of October this year, the Secretariat has approved a total of $12.1 billion of wage subsidies for May to all eligible employers. This involved a total of about 1.57 million employees, of which some 1.48 million employees were granted "full subsidy", 80 000 employees were granted "half subsidy" and 10 000 employees were granted "elderly subsidy". About 90 per cent of the eligible employers (i.e. over 150 000 employers) were also approved the wage subsidies for June and July, involving a total of over $20 billion and around 1.35 million employees. Among them, some 1.27 million employees were granted "full subsidy", almost 70 000 employees were granted "half subsidy" and 10 000 employees were granted "elderly subsidy". 
     The outstanding cases mainly relate to the approval of wage subsidies for June and July, in which the employers request for review or complexity is involved. The government-appointed agent is seeking supplementary information from the employers or the MPF trustees concerned in order to expedite the processing and approval of wage subsidies for June and July to those outstanding cases.
     Regarding self-employed persons, the Secretariat has also approved a one-off subsidy to all eligible self-employed persons, involving 98 000 persons and a total subsidy of over $780 million.
     Based on the latest estimate, the administrative costs of the 2022 ESS are about 0.4 per cent of the total wage subsidies.
(2) As at the end of October this year, about 20 000 employers who have been approved the wage subsidies did not fulfil the employment undertaking in the 2022 ESS (i.e. the actual number of employees within the relevant wage range in any month of the subsidy period is smaller than the committed headcount). These employers are required to return the relevant subsidy amount for the unfilled headcount and pay a penalty equivalent to 10 per cent of the subsidy amount to be returned. Over 80 per cent of them have fully returned the relevant subsidy amount and paid a penalty. Since the remaining employers have not fully settled the clawback and penalty, the Secretariat will send them demand notes and request for settlement of the relevant amounts by a specified deadline.
(3) To relieve the unemployment situation caused by the epidemic and the anti-epidemic measures, the Government has earmarked a total of $19.8 billion under the Anti-epidemic Fund to implement the Job Creation Scheme (JCS) in three phases. Under the JCS, around 90 000 time-limited jobs in the public and private sectors have been created so far for people of different skill sets and academic qualifications, and around 68 000 have been filled. In addition to bearing the staff salary for time-limited jobs employed by various bureaux and departments, the Government subsidises the cost of employing additional staff by organisations in the non-governmental sector.
     The time-limited jobs created in the Government mainly include non-civil service contract positions, manpower requirements under government service contracts (for example, agency workers or outsourced workers engaged under the contracts) and manpower required under consultancy contracts, etc. As for the jobs created in the non-governmental sector, some are created in public bodies or organisations (such as the Hong Kong Productivity Council, the Urban Renewal Authority and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, etc.) while some are created in non-governmental organisations or under the subsidy schemes administered by the relevant umbrella organisations acting as the agents, covering various fields such as financial sector, elderly service and rehabilitation organisations, and property management, etc.
     It is relatively difficult for graduates and young people to seek job opportunities during the pandemic due to their lack of work experience. In this connection, over 20 000 jobs under the JCS are created specifically for fresh graduates or especially suitable for young people to apply. For example, the Development Bureau rolled out a subsidy scheme to subsidise companies to employ graduates and assistant professionals in the fields of engineering, architecture, surveying, town planning and landscape architecture. The Government also attaches importance to the grassroots workers facing underemployment or unemployment problem amid the epidemic. Over 18 000 jobs created under the JCS are relatively junior positions, such as cleansing workers, venue assistants, as well as skilled and non-skilled workers. The Government also understands that people from certain industries have been particularly affected by the epidemic and are facing the situation of underemployment or even unemployment. The JCS has catered for the need of these people. For example, there are short-term jobs employing practitioners in the travel trade industry to assist in the operation and administrative work at community vaccination centres, and employing sports coaches as well as practitioners in the travel trade, retail and exhibition industries to provide housekeeping and front desk support services for the Community Isolation Facilities, etc.
(4) The JCS aims to create a large number of time-limited jobs within a short period of time so as to help address the imminent needs of both the employers and employees during the pandemic. These jobs provide employees with the opportunities to acquire relevant knowledge and skills, or the necessary work experience for attainment of related professional qualifications whereby facilitating the employees' career development in the long run. At the same time, the JCS also helps employers identify and nurture talents. As the JCS is not a regular employment support scheme, employers may wish to consider retaining the employees after the subsidy period taking into account their operational and business needs.

Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Issued at HKT 18:25