MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):
Deputy President, I would like to first thank Mr CHAN Hak-kan for proposing the motion today. The debate on this motion, which should have been debated last December, has been delayed until today, but its urgency has not been affected. Over the past several months, due to wave after wave of virus infections, many businesses are already on the verge of closing down and scraping along the bottom. The number of unemployed people has been increasing month after month. The latest unemployment rate and underemployment rate announced this Tuesday are both at 17-year highs.
Even though the Government has introduced relief measures worth over $300 billion over the past year, it seems that we have yet to see a positive trend. Members of the community all eagerly expect that the Government will adopt more effective and targeted measures to tide people and businesses over this difficult period and emerge from the pandemic, so that the economy can recover early and life can return to normal. In fact, the measures to support unemployed people can simply be classified into three categories: first, providing financial assistance; second, creating temporary posts; and third, strengthening training for occupation switching.
In respect of financial assistance, the Government introduced two tranches of the Employment Support Scheme last year to prevent businesses from closing down and laying off their staff for a short period of time, thus playing a positive role in stabilizing society. However, the call in the community for introducing unemployment assistance was rejected outright in the Budget this year. Fortunately, the Government has adopted the proposal I earlier presented to the Financial Secretary to draw reference from the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme by introducing the Special 100% Loan Guarantee for Individuals Scheme specifically caters to the unemployed. As a result, the unemployed can have an additional option of applying for a loan to meet their imminent needs. I hope the Government can consider the loan ceiling of this scheme. Is $80,000 sufficient? Can it be increased? At the same time, the Government should strive for the loans to be approved and disbursed within one week from the date of application, so as to alleviate livelihood pressure on the unemployed.
The Government expects that the Hong Kong economy will resume positive growth this year and register an actual growth rate between 3.5% and 5.5%. However, variants of the virus, the actual efficacy of vaccines and vaccination rate will all bring uncertainties to the process of recovery. If the economic recovery as anticipated by the Government is delayed by another half a year, the unemployed who have drawn loans under the Special 100% Loan Guarantee for Individuals Scheme will possibly have not escaped unemployment traps. Not only will they have no money to pay the bank the interest on their loans, but they will also be hard up for money again. For this reason, I strongly urge the Government to closely monitor the data on economic recovery and formulate financial assistance plans in advance. If our economic performance data has deviated from the original forecast, the Government should immediately roll out the third tranche of the Employment Support Scheme or consider providing short-term unemployment assistance, so as to ensure social stability.
Apart from financial assistance, creating employment opportunities is also an effective way. As indicated by the Secretary, the Government spent some $6.6 billion on providing 30 000 temporary posts last year. At the end of last month, however, the Civil Service Bureau disclosed that only 18 000 posts had been filled, and the remaining 12 000 posts were still under recruitment. The Bureau then also disclosed that the Government planned to allocate another $6.6 billion to likewise provide an additional 30 000 temporary posts this year. As such, the Government should now speed up the pace of recruitment so that more people can be given an employment opportunity. At the same time, as it is now already March, fresh graduates will soon be flooding the job market. My sector has responded actively to the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme introduced by the Government, and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has joined hands with banks to offer hundreds of internship positions, which were well-received. But the number of such positions is limited after all. I therefore hope that the Government can further study creating other employment opportunities for young people.
My last point is related to strengthening the training or self-enhancement of employees and assisting employees from declining sectors with occupation switching. The Government introduced the third tranche of the Love Upgrading Special Scheme in January this year and increased the number of training places to 20 000. However, having checked the information available, we realize that many of the 28 sectors covered by courses introduced during the pandemic were already hard hit by unemployment, such as the hotel, tourism and catering sectors. The unemployment rate of the catering sector has already risen to 14.1%. These unemployed people are jobless not because of a lack of training. When businesses resume recruitment, an unemployed person seeking to engage in his original occupation should be more competitive than one seeking to engage in another occupation. For this reason, when the unemployment rate remains high, the Government should examine the set-up and effectiveness of training courses introduced, and assist the unemployed in selecting courses that help them to upgrade their skills or switch occupations, so as to facilitate the unemployed in landing a suitable job in the post-pandemic era.
Deputy President, the root cause of unemployment and underemployment is the economic downturn, and the root cause of the economic downturn is a pandemic that is out of control. If the pandemic is under control, we will be able to relaunch the economy. I am happy to hear the Chief Executive saying yesterday that the Government would consider providing incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated because only when we have achieved herd immunity will the economy have a chance to relaunch. I hope that the Government will expeditiously announce the details of the incentives, so that the problems associated with vaccinations can be solved as soon as possible, and Hong Kong can reach herd immunity as soon as possible.
Deputy President, I support the motion proposed by Mr CHAN Hak-kan today and all the amendments proposed by three other Members. Thank you, Deputy President.