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【社評雙語道】幫打工仔要下決心出新招

2020-10-12
■國泰表明不會申請第二期保就業計劃,裁員恐怕在所難免。 資料圖片■國泰表明不會申請第二期保就業計劃,裁員恐怕在所難免。 資料圖片

【原文】新冠疫情反覆令本港經濟持續受壓,部分企業和打工仔奄奄一息、掙扎求存。政府推出的第二期保就業計劃,申請僱主數量較第一期少約1萬,專家多解讀為企業有裁員意向和計劃,年底前倒閉潮、失業潮恐「殺到埋身」。面對重災行業經營困難和基層打工仔生活朝不保夕,特區政府應以創新思維再出新招,保住企業元氣,保障打工仔基本生活。即使財政赤字還會增加,但艱難時刻應使則使,政府善用財政儲備,幫助企業和市民熬過「寒冬」,急民所急,市民絕對支持。

經過兩輪保就業計劃後,6月至8月的最新失業率維持6.1%,有24.8萬人失業,較5月至7月增5,800人。政府推出的第二期保就業計劃已截止申請,統計指共接獲15.8萬個僱主申請,較第一期少約1萬個,當中第一期獲批的僱主中約7,000個放棄申請第二期。學者分析指,申請數字下跌是嚴重警號,間接說明僱主短期內有裁員打算。

例如,第一期獲批補貼逾6億元的國泰,就表明旗下的國泰航空及國泰港龍都不會申請第二期保就業計劃,近日不斷有傳言指兩家航空公司將大規模裁員。雖然至今未有明確消息,但觀乎年初以來,本港航空業客運量按年跌超過九成,裁員恐怕在所難免。即使有參加第二期保就業計劃的僱主,相關保障也只是維持到11月,若疫情仍未完全受控,本港經濟未有根本改善,企業倒閉潮、裁員潮或接踵而至。

既然保就業計劃的效用遞減,同時經濟未有起色,政府施政必須因應形勢變化,推出創新措施救助基層市民,由「救市」轉變為「救市」與「救人」並舉。眼下受疫情衝擊的就業市場有幾個特點:一是本港九成勞動人口從事與服務相關產業,職位可以短時間內迅速流失;二是失業的原因乃因疫情而起,並非僱員個人的知識或能力不足引致;三是失業是短期的,一旦疫情受控可能迅速復職,尤其是與旅遊、零售、酒店相關的僱員。這幾方面的特點決定了提供短期失業援助金,是比較恰當有效、最簡單直接的方法,可協助受失業減薪衝擊打工仔渡過難關。多個建制派政黨均建議政府推出臨時的失業援助金計劃,歐美多國在疫情期間亦有推出類似的措施,政府應該認真考慮、盡快落實,減輕基層市民因疫情而承受的生活壓力。

對於設立短期失業援助金,政府態度不明朗。政府早前強調,兩輪防疫抗疫基金消耗3,000多億元,已經令本年度財政赤字破歷史紀錄達到3,000億元,財政司司長陳茂波明言須審慎理財。

不可否認,量入為出、保持財政穩定是政府理財的紀律。但是,新冠疫情對本港經濟民生打擊之大、持續時間之長,前所未遇。特殊情況要茞敞S事特辦,「不能一本通書睇到老。」本港現有8,000億元的財政儲備尚算穩健,增撥部分財政儲備為特定企業和困境市民應急,正是用得其所,而且失業援助金屬暫時性,不會對本港整體財政穩健造成重大影響。部分打工仔面臨朝不保夕的困境,政府豈能袖手旁觀?( 摘錄自香港《文匯報》社評2020-10-07)

Innovative measures are needed to help wage earners

【譯文】As the local economy remains pressured by the volatile Covid-19 outbreak, wage earners and some enterprises are struggling to survive. In the second phase of the government's Employment Support Scheme (ESS), however, the number of applications dropped by around 10,000 when compared to the first phase. According to experts, this may be an indication that enterprises are planning to make redundancies, and a wave of layoffs and corporate bankruptcies is going to hit Hong Kong by the end of 2020. To offer help to hard-hit sectors and wage earners who struggle with their livelihoods, the government should come up with new innovative measures. Although further relief measures from the government would increase its fiscal deficit, spending to help the needy in such times of crisis is justifiable, and the public would surely be supportive.

With two rounds of ESS, the unemployment rate between June and August remained at 6.1 per cent, and the number of unemployed increased by 5,800 to 248,000 compared with May to July. As application for the second phase ESS drew to a close, government figures show that the number of applicants dropped by around 10,000 to 158,000. Around 7,000 employers who received subsidies from the first phase opted out of the scheme. Scholars believe the drop in the number of applications is an alarming indication of a coming wave of layoffs.

For instance, Cathay Pacific Airways, which received over HK$600 million worth of wage subsidies from the first phase of ESS, has announced that both Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon will not apply for phase two ESS. Rumours have since emerged that there will be large-scale layoffs in the two commercial airlines. Although these are still only rumours for now, large-scale redundancies are very likely to happen eventually, as the passenger count of the local aviation sector dropped by over 90 per cent year on year.

Considering that the wage subsidies provided by the second phase ESS will only last until November this year, waves of layoffs and business closures might still hit Hong Kong if the pandemic situation remains volatile.

As the effectiveness of ESS diminishes amid a still-sluggish economy, the government should come up with more innovative measures on helping the grassroots. The target of the government's relief measures should be to provide help to both the wage earners and the market, instead of focusing only on the market. There are a few points to note regarding the hard-hit labour market of Hong Kong.

First, 90 per cent of the labour are engaged in service-related sectors where jobs are lost rapidly.

Second, the loss of jobs is due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and has nothing to do with the productivity of the labours.

Third, the loss of jobs is not permanent. Lost jobs, especially those in the tourism, retail business and hospitality sectors, will be reinstated quickly once the pandemic is brought under control.

Thus, a short-term unemployment allowance could be the most effective and direct way to aid those wage earners who either lost their jobs or have their pay cut recently.

As multiple pro-establishment political parties have already raised the issue, considering that many western countries that are hit by Covid-19 have also adopted similar measures, the government should roll out short-term unemployment allowance as soon as possible.

In reality, however, the government is quite reluctant towards providing short-term unemployment assistance to the public. The government earlier stressed that the fiscal deficit has already climbed to a record high of HK$300 billion, as more than HK$300 billion were allocated to the two rounds of the anti-epidemic fund. Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has made it clear that the administration will take a prudent approach in managing the public coffers. It is undeniable that keeping expenditure within the limits of revenues and maintaining financial stability are integral elements of the government's philosophy. Yet, the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on both the economy and the people's livelihoods are also unprecedented long-standing and profound. No one approach can solve all problems, and a special situation requires special measures.

As the government's HK$800 billion fiscal reserves should still be healthy enough, allocating more resources to help those who are in dire need of assistance can be justified.

Moreover, the proposed short-term unemployment assistance is only a temporary measure, it will not have a significant impact on the government's long-term financial stability. Some wage earners out there are now living a precarious life, how can the government just stand by and watch?■Jeffrey Tse

Exercise

1.財政儲備

2.外匯儲備

3.財政赤字

4.財政盈餘

5. 倒閉

Answer

1. fiscal reserves

2. foreign exchange reserves

3. budget deficit

4. budget surplus

5. to go bankrupt

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