Pedestrians walk past a vacant shop in the Tai Hang district of Hong Kong on Sept 17, 2021. (ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government on Thursday optimized the Employment Support Scheme it launched last month, including removing the salary cap for eligible employees and allowing large companies to claim allowances for up to 1,000 employees.
The new round of Employment Support Scheme was set up to help small and medium-sized companies retain employees who earn less than HK$30,000 ($3,830) a month in the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, while preventing employers from distributing the subsidies to higher-paid workers instead of giving the full amount to lower-salaried staff
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made the announcement on Thursday during her daily news conference on the pandemic.
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The new round of Employment Support Scheme was set up to help small and medium-sized companies retain employees who earn less than HK$30,000 ($3,830) a month in the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, while preventing employers from distributing the subsidies to higher-paid workers instead of giving the full amount to lower-salaried staff.
The current optimization measures to lift the salary cap and allow more companies to apply for subsidies were made after consideration of the views of Legislative Council members and representatives of various industries, Lam said.
The number of employees eligible to receive the subsidy will be capped at 1,000 for the better allocation of government resources, as the handout is intended for small and medium-sized enterprises, according to Lam.
Employers are allowed to choose to use either the 2020 ESS data or the actual number of employees in the fourth quarter of 2021 as the cap on the number of eligible employees, Lam said.
Supermarkets, pharmacies and courier companies, which were not among the sectors most affected by the fifth wave of the pandemic and excluded from the scheme, will now also benefit, with a cap of 100 employees.
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Meanwhile, part-time and freelance workers who would not otherwise be eligible for the scheme are also included now, and employers can claim half of the allowance for them, up to a maximum of HK$4,000, while self-employed people with Mandatory Provident Fund accounts and employees aged 65 or above will also benefit, Lam added.
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So far, about 360,000 applications for temporary unemployment relief has been received, according to Doris Ho Pui-ling, head of policy innovation and co-ordination office.
The first batch of 60,000 approved applicants will receive the HK$10,000 from next Tuesday, Ho said, adding that she hoped the subsidy would be paid out as soon as possible.