Hong Kong registers 80 per cent month-on-month rise in vacancies in September even as jobless rate remains high, labour minister says

Ng Kang-chung
·5-min read

Hong Kong registered an 80 per cent jump in job vacancies in September over the previous month, as the city’s labour minister pointed to a recovering employment market amid a 16-year high jobless rate of 6.4 per cent.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong said the substantial growth in vacancies was a sign the job market was stabilising, with the Covid-19 pandemic subsiding from its peak. He added that “many economic indicators were starting to bottom out”.

“The number of vacancies received in September this year by the Labour Department from the private sector has increased substantially by about 80 per cent to 78,578, from 43,725 in August,” Law wrote on his official blog on Sunday.

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But he also added: “Of course, the jobless figures remain high.”

Hong Kong’s jobless rate for the July to September period climbed to 6.4 per cent, a 16-year high, from 6.1 per cent for the June to August period.

Law said the Labour Department would step up efforts to help workers find jobs through organising more job fairs and retraining.

We should not be led to think that the jobless problem is not serious now

Lee Shu-kam, associate head, department of economics and finance, Shue Yan University

But Dr Lee Shu-kam, associate head of Shue Yan University’s department of economics and finance, warned people not to rejoice over the news.

“It [the rise in vacancies] is because of the low base effect, which can give a misleading indication,” he said.

“When Covid-19 restrictions ease, retailers or restaurants would need to hire more people. While job offers are increasing, this would still not offset the rise in the number of jobless workers. And we should not be led to think that the jobless problem is not serious now.

“Recently, we saw that the travel sector was hit hard, Cathay Pacific and travel agencies have been cutting jobs,” he said.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong. Photo: Jonathan Wong
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Pro-establishment lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, of the Federation of Trade Unions, also said: “When the government’s Employment Support Scheme ends, the number of employees being laid off will definitely surpass the increase in jobs.

“Moreover, these private sector jobs might not be suitable for those unemployed. You cannot ask a former tour guide to work in elderly care homes, they were not trained to do it.”

Kwok said apart from getting information about private sector vacancies, the government must also create more new jobs in environmental protection, recycling, technology, and other key sectors that would help improve Hong Kong’s quality of life and the economy.

Last week, experts at Baptist University’s centre for human resources strategy and development also warned that Hong Kong’s jobless rate could hit an all-time high by the end of this year if its struggling economy could not improve and the government’s relief measures were discontinued.

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The jobless rate could surpass the record 8.5 per cent set between April and June in 2003, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) broke out in the city, the experts warned.

But Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po cited local gross domestic product figures to indicate that the local economy was recovering.

“Seasonally, the GDP in the third quarter rose by 3 per cent compared to the previous quarter,” Chan wrote on his blog on Sunday.

Although it was still a year-on-year drop of 3.4 per cent, the third quarter figure was already a big improvement from the previous two quarters when the economy recorded a negative growth of 9.1 per cent and 9 per cent respectively, Chan noted.

Chan hoped the economy would continue to pick up as the pandemic situation stabilised in Hong Kong.

Jobseekers fill out application forms at an employment fair organised by the Labour Department at Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai on October 28, 2020. Photo: Nora Tam
Jobseekers fill out application forms at an employment fair organised by the Labour Department at Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai on October 28, 2020. Photo: Nora Tam

Meanwhile, commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said the government was finalising details of the travel bubble with Singapore and was hopeful travellers between the two cities would be able to start flying without quarantine restrictions by the end of the month.

Yau said there would be at least one flight between the two cities every day and travel agencies could be able to start selling tickets by the middle of the month.

Hong Kong jobless rate could hit record high this year, experts warn

He also said in a TVB talk show that Hong Kong was willing to discuss travel bubble agreements with any place as long as they had the virus outbreak contained.

Separately, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui Ching-yu also wrote on his blog that Hong Kong’s financial market had remained “vibrant” despite the effects of the pandemic.

Hui pointed to the average daily turnover of the local stock market, which stood at more than HK$120 billion (US$15.4 billion) so far this year, up 39 per cent from over the same period a year ago, and that IPO proceeds hit HK$210 billion, showing a 58 per cent rise from the same period last year.

Additional reporting by Phila Siu and Tony Cheung

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