Subsidy push amid mass sackings

Local | Mandy Zheng 25 Jan 2021

The Society for Community Organization slammed the government for offering zero support to grassroots workers sacked or suspended from work as they demanded unemployment assistance to be introduced.

A six-month subsidy should be given to those who have become jobless or under-employed amid the pandemic, the non-governmental organization said yesterday.

Anyone who is jobless should receive a subsidy equal to 80 percent of their pre-pandemic income, capped at HK$16,000.

Those with reduced work should also get an allowance covering 80 percent of the gap in their original and current salary.

SOCO urged the government to earmark HK$30 billion in the budget scheduled to be announced next month for the subsidy scheme, which it said would benefit 400,000 citizens.

"Tens of thousands of grassroots workers have seen their work reduced and savings dry up, as authorities keep rolling out social distancing restrictions," it added.

"They are at the end of their rope, owing debts and rent, hardly getting by. The government is doing nothing to save them."

The city's jobless rate soared to 6.6 percent in October and December, with 245,800 people losing their jobs. Another 133,800 Hongkongers, or 3.4 percent of the population, were underemployed.

But officials, including Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, have rejected suggestions of setting up a short-term unemployment subsidy scheme, citing its burden on government expenditure and difficulties in determining eligibility.

Instead, the government has relaxed the means test for the jobless who are applying for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and is preparing to lower the Working Family Allowance threshold.

SOCO said such policies were not effective enough, as many jobless tend to shy away from CSSA due to stereotyping, while the Working Family Allowance application process is too complicated.

It called on authorities to prioritize maintaining basic life necessities for the poor and launch medium to long-term policies to fully support people at the grassroots during economic downturns.

Meanwhile, massage workers demanded the government allow them to resume work before Lunar New Year, vowing to follow stricter disease control measures.

The measures include mandatory testing for staffers every 14 days, shortening operation hours, requiring customers to make appointments and use the contact tracing app LeaveHomeSafe, and closing for two weeks if a premise has been visited by an infected person.

Chow Chun-yu, president of the Hong Kong Licensed Massage Association, said massage parlors have strictly obeyed anti-epidemic policies and have seen no infections, but were ordered to suspend operation three times, lasting for 141 days in total.

He warned of another wave of massive layoffs if such parlors could not reopen before Lunar New Year.

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