Question on tackling unemployment and job mismatch by Hon KP Chan:
According to the statistics (provisional figures) of the Census and Statistics Department, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased from 3.4% in January to March to 3.5% in February to April this year, and the underemployment rate for the same period also increased from 1.8% to 1.9%; meanwhile, the non-seasonally adjusted numbers of unemployed and underemployed persons in February to April this year were 131 900 and 68 900 respectively. On the other hand, the number of private sector vacancies received by the Labour Department in May this year was 66 000 in total, representing a 12.3% increase compared to 58 000 in April, and 25 600 of these vacancies came from the five low-paid trades of catering, retail, cleaning, security services and property management, representing a 21.4% increase compared to 21 000-odd in April. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) how the Government interprets the aforesaid figures, and whether it has assessed if there is a problem of a serious mismatch of job types in Hong Kong; if there is, of the reasons for that, and what measures the Government has to solve the problem; if not, why there are more than 200 000 unemployed and underemployed persons despite the substantial number of vacancies available in the private sector;
(b) whether the Government has conducted any detailed analysis on the future supply of and demand for various types of jobs in Hong Kong; if it has, of the details and outcome; if not, the reasons for that, and whether it has planned to conduct such a study; if it has, when it will do so; if not, of the reasons for that;
(c) whether the Government knows if there is a phenomenon of a large number of vacancies for low-paid jobs (e.g. cleaning and dish washing, etc) remaining unfilled after the implementation of the statutory minimum wage (SMW); if so, whether it will formulate measures to address the problem of the continuous increase in the number of low-paid job vacancies; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(d) as it has been reported that after the implementation of SMW, a large number of young people have joined the security services industry which requires longer working hours, thus affecting the employment of a large number of middle-aged people with low skills and educational attainment, whether, in addition to the existing measures, the Government will enhance its support for middle-aged people to find employment; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(e) as the statistics from the Social Welfare Department show that, at the end of April this year, the total number of cases under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme was 282 351, among which 29 206 belonged to the category of unemployment, whether the Government has analysed the reasons for these CSSA recipients being unemployed; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and in the past five years, for how long these CSSA recipients were unemployed and received CSSA respectively (set out the longest, shortest and average durations concerned for these cases in each year); the situation of the referral of these people to the Labour Department for job seeking; the success rate of job seeking; and the reasons for failing to get a job; and
(f) in the past five years, of the number of able-bodied CSSA recipients who were unemployed; the number of them who found paid jobs through the Support for Self-reliance (SFS) Scheme and whose earnings from employment were partially or totally disregarded when assessing the amount of assistance payable to them under the provision of disregarded earnings of the CSSA Scheme; the highest, lowest and average wages that they earned; the number of years for which they had received support; whether the Government had assessed and analysed the effectiveness of the SFS Scheme; if it had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) According to the latest labour force statistics released by the Census and Statistics Department, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 3.5% (provisional figure) in March – May 2011, same as that in February – April 2011. The underemployment rate also remained unchanged at 1.9% in the two periods (provisional figure).
Owing to strong economic growth and continued job creation, total employment rose notably further, by around 15 000, to an all-time high of 3 600 500 in March – May 2011. Over the same period, the labour force increased by around 17 800 to 3 735 300. The new jobs created helped absorb most of the additional workforce. Consequently, the number of unemployed persons rose only slightly by some 3 000 to the latest figure of 134 900 during the period. Meanwhile, the number of underemployed persons increased by around 700 to 69 600.
The total number of private sector vacancies posted by the Labour Department (LD) in the first five months this year increased by 18.9% to 324 936 over 273 344 in the same period last year.
In the next few months, a new batch of fresh graduates and school leavers will join the labour market. Together with job seekers induced by the recent implementation of the statutory minimum wage (SMW) to join the labour market, these two factors will have an impact on employment.
However, given Hong Kong’s buoyant economy and positive hiring sentiment at the moment, labour demand is expected to remain firm in the near term. This could help cushion the impact on the unemployment rate arising from the increase in the labour supply. We will continue to closely monitor developments in the labour market and do our best to assist job-seekers.
(b) In studying specific employment and manpower situation, the bureaux/departments concerned will make reference to a wide range of relevant statistics and research studies. These include the Manpower Projection (MP) conducted by the Government and the Vocational Training Council (VTC)’s Manpower Surveys. A new round of MP is being conducted to assess the future manpower supply and requirements, as well as the manpower balance by education level, at the macro level. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2011. VTC conducts Manpower Surveys on a regular basis to provide short-term projections on the manpower requirements for some specific sectors.
(c) Owing to strong economic growth at the moment, the number of private sector vacancies posted by the LD in May increased when compared to that in April. Some employers may experience difficulties in filling certain vacancies. To address the issue, LD has stepped up its efforts in providing employment services to fill these vacancies.
Apart from disseminating vacancy information through a network of 12 Job Centres, a Telephone Employment Service Centre, the Interactive Employment Service (iES) website and vacancy search terminals installed at various locations in the territory, LD organises large-scale job fairs at various locations from time to time to expedite the dissemination of employment information. We keep in close touch with employers of different industries to canvass vacancies of different types, including vacancies and elementary occupations from sectors which are more likely to be affected by the implementation of SMW. In the first five months of 2011, LD organised five large-scale job fairs attracting some 7 300 job seekers to join. Another two will be held in July in Tung Chung. From time to time, LD also organises district-based job fairs in 12 Job Centres in the territory to respond speedily to the recruitment needs of employers as well as to disseminate the most updated vacancy information to job-seekers. Furthermore, mini job fairs are organised for employers of the catering and retail industries at LD’s two industry-based recruitment centres almost every working day to offer job-seekers on-the-spot job interviews.
Apart from the above, LD conducts weekly comparisons of the most-sought-after jobs by its registrants and occupations with the largest number of vacancies. The information, publicised at our website and job centres, provides a handy reference for job-seekers and employers to keep abreast of the latest labour demand and supply situation. We also make reference to the information in canvassing suitable vacancies and organising recruitment activities.
LD will continue to adopt a multi-pronged approach in facilitating the dissemination of employment information with a view to assisting job-seekers in getting hold of the latest vacancy situation to widen their choice in job searches and assisting employers in recruiting staff.
(d) Owing to the buoyant economy and positive hiring sentiment at the moment, quite a number of organisations have plans to recruit additional staff. In May 2011, the number of private sector vacancies posted by the LD increased by 12.3% from 58 697 in April 2011 to 65 943, and up by 7.9% over 61 089 in the same period last year. Moreover, the number of vacancies from low-paying sectors such as retail, catering, estate management and security services, as well as cleaning services all registered an increase in May 2011 over the previous month. The overall increase in the number of vacancies will certainly help job-seekers of different age groups, including youths as well as those less educated and low-skilled middle-aged, secure employment.
LD has all along been concerned with the employment of middle-aged job-seekers. Specifically, for the middle-aged, LD has launched the Employment Programme for the Middle-aged to encourage employers to take on unemployed job-seekers aged 40 or above and offer them on-the-job training through providing employers with on-the-job training allowance.
In addition, LD will continue to operate its various specialised employment programmes (including the Employment Programme for the Middle-aged) with a view to helping job-seekers with special needs and employment difficulties secure employment. We will closely monitor the actual impact of the implementation of SMW on the employment market and continue to adopt multi-pronged measures to facilitate the employment of the middle-aged. Where necessary, we will consider further enhancing this programme so as to strengthen our employment support to the middle-aged.
In terms of training, in response to the economic situation and market needs, including the possible changes in the labour market following the implementation of the SMW, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) plans to increase the number of training places to 130 000 in 2011-12, and has reserved resources for an additional 30 000 training places. ERB will closely monitor industry conditions and adjust the allocation of training places flexibly to meet the needs. The service targets of ERB cover all Hong Kong residents aged 15 or above and with education attainment at sub-degree level or below. People of different age and background, including the middle-aged, may benefit from the services of ERB.
(e) As at the end of May 2011, there were 282 123 Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) cases. Of these, 29 131 were unemployment cases. The number of CSSA unemployed recipients over the past five years broken down by duration of stay on CSSA for 1 year or less and more than 5 years is at Annex.
In general, unemployed able-bodied CSSA recipients aged below 60 are required to participate in the Support for Self-reliance (SFS) Scheme to receive employment assistance services, including job matching. As at the end of April 2011, the percentage of SFS participants who had taken up employment was 26.4%.
The Social Welfare Department (SWD) is unable to provide information on the beneficiaries’ reasons for unemployment, the duration of unemployment, or the reasons for individual participants’ failure in securing employment because the computer systems concerned do not capture such information.
(f) The number of CSSA unemployed recipients in the past five years is at Annex; the number of those benefiting from partial or total disregarded earnings arrangement is 1 935, 1 841, 1 779, 2 504 and 2 667 at the end of each year. SWD is unable to provide information on the minimum, average and maximum amount of their employment earnings, or the duration of them receiving employment assistance services under the SFS Scheme as the computer systems concerned do not capture such information.
SWD has been closely monitoring the progress, and reviewing the effectiveness, of various employment assistance programmes. For instance, SWD has earlier commissioned the University of Hong Kong to evaluate the New Dawn Project, which is a specialised employment programme for CSSA single parents and child carers. The conclusion was that the project was beneficial to both the participants and their children.