New positions in the information technology, health care and welfare sectors could fill a large part of the 30,000 job vacancies to be created by the Hong Kong government to boost the employment rate amid the Covid-19 crisis, the Post has learned.
The measure, which is expected to cost HK$6 billion and last for two years, formed part of a HK$137.5 billion (US$17.4 billion) coronavirus relief package that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor rolled out on Wednesday, aimed at saving ailing businesses and creating jobs.
Grappling with the twin impact of the coronavirus pandemic after months of anti-government protests, the city’s unemployment rate reached 3.7 per cent in February – the highest in nine years – according to official statistics.
Officials had warned the situation was likely to get worse in the months ahead, and as result, ensuring there were job opportunities available had become an important concern for the government, a source told the Post.
Apart from the HK$80 billion wage scheme benefiting 1.5 million existing employees, sources familiar with the situation said more jobs relating to infection control would be created in the community, ranging from professional jobs such as technology experts, to frontline jobs in health care and cleaning.
But representatives from these fields worried the support was temporary, as each job had a time limit of up to 12 months, according to the government, while some said additional training would be needed for new workers.
“We see the growing need for technology and innovation talent during the pandemic, when lots of social-distancing measures are in place,” the government source said. “Businesses are making use of videoconferencing, and telemedicine and virtual visits have started to grow in the health care sector.”
The city also needed a lot more staff in care homes for the elderly and hospitals, another source said.
Construction and cleaning industries would also hire a significant portion of workers in the first phase, as these fields could still operate while social-distancing measures were enhanced, the source said, adding the government would continue to create new jobs in the coming two years by asking for proposals from various departments.
According to the source, jobs would be created through service contracts awarded by government departments, while the administration could also ask existing contractors to increase staffing levels.
The private sector would be encouraged to hire more employees, the government source said, and to apply for the new employment support scheme, in which the government paid up to 50 per cent of salaries for workers, capped at HK$9,000 (US$1,160) month.
“We hope the employers from all sectors would have initiatives to hire,” the source said. “It [the scheme] does not just cover existing employees, businesses that see a need could recruit more staff with the subsidy.”
Speaking to the Post, executive councillor and Elderly Commission chairman Dr Lam Ching-choi said he believed the pandemic had changed the way care homes in the city operated.
“For aged care, this pandemic should and will revolutionise the mode of operation. We see a need in telemedicine, gerontechnology as well as infection control measures by technology,” he said.
“Some measures may be reverted but a lot of good practices will remain, and that all requires more manpower.”
Lam said for private care homes, recruitment should also be easy given the unemployment rate was rising.
Representatives from the care home sector and environmental services said they had seen a surge in the number of jobseekers over the past two months, with unemployed workers from the catering, insurance and property management fields.
Edna Yeung Oi-shan, programme director at Christian Family Service Centre, said there had been a lack of personal caretakers and cleaners in many of the centres for the elderly for a long time, and the pandemic had given them a chance to add new staff.
“We received some new applicants from those who used to work for restaurants and sales, and they helped to fill up some of the cleaning jobs,” she said. “But when it comes to personal caretakers, proper training is required and this could not be solved by simply adding more employees.
“Drawing more work force for the industry looks good, but we are also concerned that these are only temporary jobs, and we might not have the resources to keep the additional posts after the pandemic.”
Leung Chu-hei, superintendent of another private home for the elderly, said he agreed that IT services could be improved, given the increasing infection-control measures needed.
“Now we only hire staff without proper skills, and it would be much better if the government was paying for us to hire professionals,” he said.
Thousands of people have also shifted to working as street cleaners, service managers, or administrative staff in the cleaning sector amid the pandemic, according to Catherine Yan Sui-han, convenor of the Environmental Services Contractors Alliance.
“The government may probably arrange more contracts for additional cleaning services on the streets and offices in order to create jobs, as other businesses are closed temporarily,” she said. “I guess we can still take several thousands’ workers if people can endure repulsive work.”
While the government tries to safeguard employment, some sectors complained they were still being left out. Henry Yeung Chiu-fat, president of Hong Kong Doctors Union, called a radio programme on Friday to complain that private doctors could hardly benefit from any of the measures the government announced.
“Many doctors are working in medical tourism, and their businesses have dropped 90 per cent, especially those in the northern district,” Yeung said, pointing to the drop in visitors from mainland China. “Some are losing between $100,000 and $200,000 every month.”
Yeung said the government had offered little assistance, but asked them for help in testing for Covid-19 in their clinics.
“We needed to purchase protective gears, and each clinic has spent about HK$10,000 a month on this,” he said. “Yet the only assistance from the government is the exemption of our registration fees, which is HK$450 a year.”
Separately, Link Reit, the biggest real estate investment trust in Asia, said it would provide a HK$300 million subsidy for their commercial tenants, through providing rent concessions and rent-free periods.
School buses and operators using their car parks could have a 50 per cent rent reduction for half a year, while other monthly parking users would have their rent frozen.
It also emerged on Friday that MTR Corporation chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen and the board will donate one month of their director’s fees, while the railway operator’s CEO Dr Jacob Kam Chak-pui and executive directors will give up 20 per cent of their salary for six months, to help those with pressing needs during the pandemic.
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