Hong Kong 2003
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With the advent of a global knowledge economy, Hong Kong is going through a process of economic restructuring. While the transformation holds promises of new opportunities, it also poses challenges for the workforce. Employees therefore have to adapt to the changing environment, and continually upgrade their skills in order to remain competitive in the labour market. The Government for its part is doing everything it can to facilitate employment through training/retraining and enhanced employment services, safeguard employees' rights and benefits, foster harmonious employer/employee relations and promote occupational safety and health in this changing landscape.

MANPOWER is Hong Kong's most treasured asset. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government aims to ensure that there is a dynamic, well-motivated, adaptable and skilful workforce contributing to Hong Kong's economic competitiveness.

In 2003, the Government continued to devote much effort to facilitating employment. Chaired by the Financial Secretary, the Task Force on Employment has devised a wide range of measures to boost the economy and promote employment since its inception in 1998. The Task Force, comprising senior officials and representatives of the business, employees, training and academic sectors, serves as a high-level forum to tap the views of the community on ways to improve the employment situation. It was expanded in 2002 to include representatives of political parties.

The Government has continued to offer extra help to enhance the employability of the more vulnerable groups in the community. During the year, the Employees Retraining Board offered over 114 400 training places (the capacity being more or less the same as in 2002) to assist eligible workers, especially those displaced or unemployed ones, to re-enter the labour market.

In addition, the Government has continued its efforts to assist young people to enhance their employability through the Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme which provides on-the-job training of six to 12 months to young people.

At the same time, the Government recognises the need to promote good employer-employee relations, enhance the rights and benefits of employees in a way commensurate with Hong Kong's socio-economic development, and protect the safety and health of employees at work.

Measures in Response to SARS Outbreak

In response to the outbreak of SARS and to prepare for the entry of school leavers into the labour market in the summer, two employment/training packages, coordinated by the Labour Department, were introduced in May and July to create a total of 53 550 employment-related and training openings, at the cost of $1.15 billion. Of these openings, 17 000 were training places offered under the Skills Enhancement Project to provide trade-specific and generic training to employees of industries hard-hit by SARS — such as catering, retail, tourism, hotel, passenger transport, building decoration, real estate, and airport and related industries.

As part of the SARS-related employment packages, the 'Special Incentive Allowance Scheme for Local Domestic Helpers (LDHs)' was launched, through the 'Integrated Scheme for LDHs' administered by the Employees Retraining Board, in June. The incentive scheme aims to promote the service of LDHs for household cleaning and to address the mismatch in supply and demand in the LDH market arising from geographical locations and working hours. A sum of $60 million has been earmarked to provide an allowance to qualified LDHs who are willing to work in a district different from the one in which they reside or during 'unsocial hours' (i.e., 5 pm to 9 am). It is estimated that some 8 000 LDHs will benefit from the scheme.

To help needy employers in the worst-hit industries — including the tourism, restaurants, retail and entertainment businesses — to tide over the difficult time and to preserve jobs, the Government established a low-interest Loan Guarantee Scheme, with a commitment of $3.5 billion. The department assisted in administering and publicising the scheme. A total of 1 802 applications had been received at the close of applications on July 31. Of these, 1 559 applications with a total loan amount of $499,204,781 were approved. The successful applicants employed 18 236 staff altogether.

To help resolve labour relations issues arising from the outbreak of SARS, the Labour Department mapped out enlightened human resources strategies in collaboration with the various industry-based tripartite committees and Human Resource Managers' Clubs. The department also published guidelines and distributed reference materials to employers and employees through newspapers and the electronic media.

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