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【社評雙語道】精準救助特定行業和打工仔刻不容緩

2020-12-14
■與旅遊相關行業的裁員潮早已開始,永安旅遊宣布裁減兩成員工。 資料圖片■與旅遊相關行業的裁員潮早已開始,永安旅遊宣布裁減兩成員工。 資料圖片

【原文】政府多項防疫禁令從12月10日開始收緊,餐飲等行業的經營苦況勢必雪上加霜,部分行業的倒閉潮、失業潮恐將呼嘯而至。面對大批企業倒閉、大量打工仔失業的困境,非常時期,政府要有非常擔當、非常辦法,馬上研究、果斷動用財政儲備,以特惠方式、精準救助特定行業及從業人員,急民所急、紓困救民。

接近一年時緊時鬆的控疫措施,令餐飲等多個行業已經陷入經營艱難。此次食肆及餐飲場所「晚六朝五」禁堂食至12月23日,很多處所關閉,如果疫情持續,控疫禁令勢將延長,餐飲等行業失去聖誕、新年乃至春節等假期旺季生意,損失慘重可想而知。餐飲界估計,12月生意額本有望達到160億元,限聚令再收緊下生意額或只有60億元,將蒸發100億元;美容業料12月生意損失150億元,若停業令延至農曆新年後,結業潮將無可避免出現。與旅遊相關行業的裁員潮早已開始,早前國泰航空5,300名駐港員工失業,永安旅遊亦宣布裁減兩成約120名員工。

目前本港失業率高達6.4%、失業大軍逼近26萬人,而政府「保就業」計劃已結束,專家預計本港失業率會升至7%、青年人的失業率更可能達至20%,業界和打工仔自然期望政府能夠救急救命。

特首林鄭月娥早前表示,政府已撥出3,100億元抗疫,對政府構成很大財政壓力,但現時政府立場有別之前,願意「積極回應」被新冠肺炎疫情重創的關閉處所,會推出津貼防止大規模的倒閉及失業。政府對救助受影響企業和打工仔的態度出現轉變,值得肯定,符合本港現時的實際情況,下一步應立即研究具體方案,果斷動用財政儲備,對特定企業實施精準的緊急救助。

無疑,今年政府已動用3,100億元於抗疫紓困,本財政年度首6個月錄得2,798億元赤字,庫房儲備由1.1萬多億驟降至8,805億元,但8,000多億元的財政儲備與其他經濟體相比,仍是相當充裕。財政儲備的一個重要功能就是用來救急,遭疫情重創的企業、行業和打工仔水深火熱,政府當然不能袖手旁觀,眼看茈L們掉入深淵。財政儲備此時不用,更待何時?!本港雖有量入為出的理財政策和紀律,但救命時刻,只要保證經濟不出大問題,救助危難企業和打工仔,財政儲備應使則使。

當然,政府未來的紓困救急措施,要有針對性,要惠及那些最需要救助的行業及從業員。同時政府對「失業支援計劃」健全人士申請資產上限放寬一倍、政府增加臨時職位的計劃等要加快推行,以緩解失業者痛楚。 本港經濟正面臨20多年來最差境況,政府需以底線思維,要做最壞打算,作最充分準備,精準救助,不能任由最壞情況出現。 ( 摘錄自香港《文匯報》社評 2020-12-10)

Assist specific sectors and their workers immediately with targeted measures

【譯文】As the government tightens social distancing measures again starting from 10 December, the plight of the catering and other industries is set to further aggravate, and waves of business closures and layoffs are likely to hit soon. In face of the impending financial downturn where businesses will go bankrupt and workers will be left without a job, the government must take an unconventional approach and swiftly consider tapping into the fiscal reserves to help those sectors and workers.

It has been almost a year since the tightening and loosening cycles of social distancing measures descended upon Hong Kong, and many industries like catering are already engulfed in financial difficulties. In the latest round of tightening measures, dine-in at restaurants will be forbidden from 18:00 to 05:00 until 23 December, while many other premises are also to close. If the pandemic situation continues, these measures are bound to be extended further into the Christmas, New Year's Eve, and even Lunar New Year holiday periods, and catering businesses are going to sustain heavy losses. The catering sector estimates that the original business turnover in December was going to reach HK$16bn, however as social distancing measures tighten again, the figure is set to drop by HK$10bn to HK$6bn only. Meanwhile, the beauty industry also projects a HK$15bn loss in December, and has stated that if the closure order is not lifted by Lunar New Year, businesses will inevitably close for good. Layoffs have long begun already for tourism-related sectors, with Cathay Pacific cutting 5,300 jobs and Wing On Travel 120, trimming 20 per cent of the company's positions.

At present, the unemployment rate in Hong Kong is already at 6.4 per cent, with nearly 260,000 people jobless. As the government's Employment Support Scheme draws to an end, experts predict that the unemployment rate will climb to 7 per cent, and the unemployment rate among young people may reach as high as 20 per cent. Given the circumstances, businesses and wage earners naturally expect the government to provide urgent assistance. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said earlier that the government was under immense financial pressure as it has already allocated HK$310bn to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the government U-turned on the matter recently, and is now willing to "actively respond" to businesses that are affected by closure orders. Subsidies will be provided to save them from the brink of collapse and to prevent the large scale unemployment which would follow. The change in the government's stance towards helping the affected businesses and employees deserves recognition and is certainly the right move given the current situation in Hong Kong. The next step should be to put forth immediately the concrete proposals of how to decisively use the fiscal reserves to achieve these goals.

Indeed, the government has already spent HK$310bn in anti-pandemic relief this year, and a deficit of HK$279.8bn has been recorded in the first half of this financial year. It is also true that the fiscal reserves fell drastically from over HK$1.1tn to HK$880.5bn. However, a fiscal reserve of over HK$800bn is still considered quite abundant when compared with other economies. One of the main purposes of fiscal reserves is to cope with emergent events. As workers, businesses, and even whole industries are now suffering in dire situations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government must not just stand by and watch. If this is not the time to use the reserves, when is? Although existing financial policies require the government to keep expenditure within the limits of its revenues, as long as there are no major problems in the local economy, the fiscal reserves should be drawn at this critical moment to help those businesses and workers that are in distress.

But of course, the government must ensure that its emergency relief measures are targeted at those industries and employees who need them most. Plans to relax asset limit requirements for able-bodied applicants of the unemployment support scheme, and plans to increase temporary jobs in the civil service must also be expedited to relieve the burden of unemployed citizens. As Hong Kong is facing the worst economic downturn in over two decades, the government must plan for the worst and act swiftly before it is too late.■Jeffrey Tse

Exercise

1. 綜合社會保障援助計劃(綜援)

2. 傷殘津貼

3. 高齡津貼(生果金)

4. 長者生活津貼

5. 關愛基金

Answer

1. Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA)

2. Disability Allowance

3. Old Age Allowance

4. Old Age Living Allowance

5. Community Care Fund

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