Announcement comes as labour market continues to show signs of improvement
The Hong Kong government has approved billions worth of wage subsidies for the months of May, June, and July for employers under the financial hub's 2022 Employment Support Scheme (ESS), according to Labour Secretary Chris Sun.
The ESS, launched under Hong Kong's Anti-Epidemic Fund, extends wage subsidies to employers for three months to help retain and hire more employees.
For the month of May, the ESS secretariat has approved a total of $12.1 billion of wage subsidies, which will benefit about 1.57 million employees. Another $20 billion was also approved for over 150,000 employers for the months of June and July, according to Sun, benefiting over 1.35 million employees.
However, Sun noted that over 80% of about 20,000 employers had to fully return their subsidy and pay an additional 10% penalty for not satisfying the employment conditions of the ESS.
"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," Sun said.
Job creation scheme
Sun also said the government's $19.8-billion Job Creation Scheme (JCS) created around 90,000 time-limited jobs in the public and private sectors, and around 68,000 have been filled.
"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," Sun said. "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."
The jobs created under the scheme include non-civil service contract positions for the government, as well as new roles under public bodies or organisations in the non-governmental sector. Over 20,000 jobs under the JCS were also created with fresh graduates and other young people in mind, according to Sun, while over 18,000 were created for relatively junior positions.
Sun said the programme aims to alleviate unemployment in Hong Kong and help employers identify and nurture talent. In addition to bearing salary for the time-limited jobs, the government also subsidised the cost of employing additional staff for organisations in the non-governmental sector.
"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," Sun said.
Hong Kong's unemployment rate went down to 3.8% in the August-to-October period, according to data from the Census and Statistics Department. Underemployment also decreased to 1.7% in the same period.
"The unemployment rate for food and beverage service activities fell by 0.8 percentage point to 5.4%, and that of the retail sector declined by 0.5 percentage point to 5.2%. The unemployment rates of many other sectors also declined, particularly the decoration, repair, and maintenance for buildings sector," Sun said.
Employment increased by 19,700 to 3.6 million employed people in August to October, while the labour force increased by 11,800 to 3.7 million.
According to Sun, the government is expecting economic activities to "gradually return to normal" as long as the hub's anti-epidemic measures are suitably relaxed, and COVID-19 remains under control.