Scheme relief for catering and construction workers

Top News | Sophie Hui 13 May 2020

Seniors, the self-employed and construction and catering workers will be covered by the government's expanded HK$80 billion wage subsidy scheme, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said.

Applications for the scheme begin on May 25 and close on June 14, with the first batch of subsidies to be handed out as early as the end of June.

The government will pay up to half of employees' salaries for six months - capped at HK$9,000 a month - under the scheme.

Lam yesterday said those 65 years old or above can be subsidized as long as they have a Mandatory Provident Fund account, even if they do not regularly contribute to their fund. Some 60,000 people will benefit from the expanded measures.

Originally, employees are only eligible for the subsidy if they are making mandatory contributions to their MPF accounts.

Lam added that 12,000 people working in the catering and construction industry - including chefs and engineers - will be covered by the scheme.

The two industries were previously excluded due to being high labor mobility industries and many of their workers are casual employees.

The criteria for the 215,000 self-employed workers to apply for a one-off HK$7,500 subsidy has also been relaxed. Applicants are eligible as long as they had opened an MPF account before the end of March, even if they have not made contributions to the account.

The subsidies are calculated on the basis of 50 percent of wages in a specific month between December and March.

The range of months was recently expanded to include December in consideration of industries severely impacted by the pandemic after December.

Lam said employers only need to file the application online to grant authorization to trustees appointed by the government, which will handle the calculation.

"Regarding the effectiveness of the scheme, I am confident that it can suppress the wave of unemployment as employers can retain jobs with our help," Lam said.

Red minibus and taxi drivers, meanwhile, are eligible to receive a monthly HK$6,000 subsidy for half a year under the second round of the Anti-Epidemic Fund.

Lam said about 3,200 green minibus drivers and staff of ferries aged 65 or above can also apply for the subsidy.

Employers are warned that they will be penalized if they lay off workers, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong stressed.

The level of penalty will depend on the ratio of layoffs - the more staff fired the greater the fine, which will also be higher for big companies.

"The number of salaried personnel in June, July and August cannot be fewer than the number of employees in March," Law said.

"If the number of salaried personnel in a company is fewer than the number of employees in March, there will be a fine."

He added: "If there is any subsidy remaining, we will take it back."

Companies have been increasingly opening MPF accounts for their employees in order to participate in the Enterprise Support Scheme launched by the government last month, from which a firm can get subsidies of up to HK$54,000 for each employee.

Manulife Hong Kong has received some 5,000 applications for MPF accounts last month, while some employers are repaying overdue contributions, reports said.

Applications from employers received by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation have surged by 72 percent last month, while the number of applicants from self-employed workers increased by 3.9 times, which is believed to be related to the scheme.

The government had said new accounts opened in April may not be eligible for the subsidy.

Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming said the subsidy could ensure green minibus operators continue running, with more than half of their drivers being senior citizens.

Cleaning workers, however, said the expanded scheme is not that helpful as 90 percent of them do not have an MPF account.

sophie.hui@singtaonewscorp.com

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