Assisting Grassroots Workers Against Financial Difficulties

As the once-in-a-century financial tsunami is sweeping through the entire world, Hong Kong can hardly avoid being affected. The latest unemployment rate has risen by 0.3% to 4.1%. It was during the outbreak of SARS in 2003 that the unemployment rate also recorded the same rate of increase of 0.3%.

With the unemployment rate rising all the time, the priority task for the Government is to maintain employment. Before discussing the employment issue, I would like to say a few words on the right to collective bargaining.

Hong Kong has all along been an externally-oriented economy. Under economic globalization, all trades and industries must compete with enterprises from all parts of the world. In order to maintain our competitive edge and continue to create employment, Hong Kong must strike a reasonable balance between protecting the rights and interests of employees and maintaining the competitive edge of enterprises.

As a lot of enterprises in Hong Kong are currently faced with a critical operating environment, bosses and workers must make concerted efforts in overcoming the current economic predicament. Collective bargaining, if implemented through legislation, may affect the confidence of global investors, thereby undermining the territory’s competitive edge and job opportunities.

Hong Kong society is still divided on the issue of the right to collective bargaining. Before a consensus is reached in society, to enact legislation to mandate collective bargaining may even intensify the deadlock between employers and employees. Even if legislation is enacted to mandate negotiations between employers and employees, there is still no guarantee that an agreement acceptable to both parties can be reached.

In the past, labour relations in Hong Kong were generally harmonious. Despite the occasional occurrence of demonstrations and strikes, problems were peacefully resolved in the end, thanks to the ability of employers and employees to engage in discussions and negotiations on the basis of mutual understanding. Actually, many of the proposals raised by a number of Members today in their motion and amendments are of practical use and capable of assisting grass-roots workers in counteracting economic adversities.

Now I would like to focus on ways to assist the employment of young people, especially those secondary school, associate degree and university graduates.

As I have said just now, the latest unemployment figure published by the Government has risen to 4.1%, with more than 4 000 people joining the ranks of the unemployed. The unemployment rate of young people aged between 15 and 29 rises, instead of falls, after the summer holidays for the first time in seven years. Information reveals that the unemployment rate of the young people has not improved with some of them pursuing further studies after the summer holidays. While the unemployment rate of young people aged between 15 and 19 has risen from 18.1% during the summer holidays to 19.3% afterwards, the unemployment rate of those aged between 20 and 29 has also risen from 5% during the summer holidays to 5.4% after the holidays. This situation has never happened since 2001.

As a large number of university students will enter the employment market after June and July, the market will face new pressure again. Under the financial tsunami, university students graduating this year will very likely face unemployment immediately upon graduation.

More administrative and research posts can be created with the Government’s provision of subsides to various tertiary institutions to expedite the commencement of construction works and expand research work within the institutions. The Government can actually consider collaborating with various trades and industries to further expand youth employment programmes and, with the subsidies provided by the Government, it can work with statutory bodies, the private sector and mainland institutions to provide internship opportunities for university, associate degree and secondary school graduates.

Meanwhile, the Government should also subsidize fresh graduates to take up part-time jobs or pursue full-time studies, for doing so can reduce the unemployment rate and, at the same time, provide the market with high-quality young people when the market improves.

Both Hong Kong and the rest of the world are now heading towards knowledge-based economic development. Only knowledge can help the grassroots to rise to the middle class and rid themselves of poverty. Our grass-roots people need to have employment opportunities and learning opportunities. Actually, amid the financial tsunami, many grass-roots people and fresh graduates will very likely face unemployment. The Government must, besides exerting its utmost to maintain employment, provide them with more internship and learning opportunities and subsidies.

Today, a number of Members have put forward many useful proposals. I also subscribe to the importance of labour rights. However, society must hold discussions and reach a consensus before collective bargaining can be enforced by legislation. I think the priority task for the Government at present is to focus on studying ways to protect employment and retain the rice bowls of the people so that everyone can have a job. President, I so submit.

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