A new support scheme to cover tens of thousands of construction workers who missed out on the HK$81 billion (US$10.5 billion) coronavirus wage subsidy package is being planned, Hong Kong's labour minister said on Saturday.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong estimated that about 30,000 to 40,000 people work as long-term staff or temporary employees on a long-term basis in the building industry but have been registered as casual workers for the purposes of their Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) pension scheme accounts.
Law said the arrangement meant they were unable to get a monthly salary subsidy for half a year the way other workers could, a problem officials discovered only when the application period for the subsidies were about to start.
“I have to say sorry,” he said on a radio programme. “The employment support scheme is about safeguarding the relationship between employees and employers. But casual workers do not count, so our scheme’s design cannot help them.
“We are thinking of another way. Through the Development Bureau, [officials will] plan a project to help those employers who [hire] this kind of workers.”
The minister estimated that the new proposal could help around 40,000 workers and he hoped a final decision within the government could be made next week.
Hong Kong’s jobless rate rose to 5.2 per cent between February and April, the highest in more than a decade, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to hammer businesses across the city.
For the construction sector, the figure stood at 10 per cent. But only about 12,000 workers could get the wage subsidies, Law said.
Under the Employment Support Scheme, the government will, via employers, pay 50 per cent of employees’ salaries for six months, with the monthly subsidy for each worker capped at HK$9,000. Each eligible self-employed person will be granted a one-off allowance of $7,500.
It was a major measure under a HK$137.5 billion coronavirus relief package unveiled by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in April.
Since the applications began on May 25, Law said, about 140,000 employers and 170,000 self-employed persons have applied for the subsidies, which were expected to be released in June at the earliest.
Law said about 70 to 80 cent of 270,000 bosses who might be eligible for the scheme were expected to apply for the money.
Some companies would be reluctant to get the help out of concerns that it would hurt their reputation, he added.
The application period for the first phase of the scheme will end on June 14.
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