A one-off relief subsidy of HK$10,000 will be given to individuals recently put out of work during the fifth Covid-19 wave, the Hong Kong government has announced.

File Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

A government platform will open for applications next Wednesday and close on April 12. Applicants must have worked for at least one month between October and December last year, and earned between HK$2,700 and HK$30,000. They must have been unemployed for at least 30 consecutive days before submitting their application, hold HKID cards, ordinarily reside in Hong Kong and be 18 years of age or over before October 1 last year.

The scheme will cost the government HK$3 billion and is expected to benefit some 300,000 recently unemployed workers, the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday morning. “A lawmaker described the unemployment rate of 4.5 per cent announced yesterday was a ‘wave in a tsunami,'” she said, adding that she hoped the relief would help the city “brave winds and waves.”

The Head of the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office, Ms Doris Ho (centre); Deputy Director of Home Affairs Ms Eureka Cheung (left); and Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers (appointed agent of the Government for the Temporary Unemployment Relief Scheme) Mr Sam Sze (right) brief the media at the Central Government Offices this afternoon (March 18) on the Temporary Unemployment Relief Scheme launched under the sixth round of the Anti-Epidemic Fund. Photo: HK Gov.

People who were previously self-employed or worked part-time are also eligible to apply. The scheme excludes beneficiaries of other relief measures in the sixth round of the Anti-Epidemic Fund or those receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance from the government.

Individuals may supply proof of unemployment such as their termination letters. Workers in informal employment who do not have documentary proof can instead make a personal declaration on their application form.

Meanwhile, those placed on unpaid leave by employers in sectors ordered to shut down under Covid-19 law Cap 599F – such as beauty parlours or gyms – will also be eligible even though they are not officially unemployed.

Photo: GovHK.

For all applicants, their last work day must be at least 30 days prior to when they applied for the fund.

Head of the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office, Doris Ho, said during a press briefing on Friday afternoon that people who took up temporary work less than 30 days prior to application will not qualify. “If you did a gig for a day or two, maybe you’d earn a little bit of income. But would you [prefer to] lose eligibility for that bit of income?” Ho said. “We would suggest that these people submit their applications anyway, and we will handle it leniently.”

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The scheme was first announced in early February as part of the sixth round of the Anti-Epidemic Fund. Applicants could expect to be paid by bank transfer within three to four weeks, Ho said.

If the applicant applied for the government’s HK$10,000 cash handout in 2020, the application platform will retrieve their bank details and ask whether those details should be used to receive the unemployment relief.

Individuals may apply whether or not they have a Mandatory Provident Fund account, although those who do not have one will be asked to submit more documentation as proof of former employment.

4.5% unemployment

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate increased from 3.9 per cent between last November and January to 4.5 per cent between last December and February. The number of unemployed individuals rose by about 22,700 people to 157,900 during this period, while the city now counts around 86,900 underemployed.

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“[A]lmost all major economic sectors saw an increase in both the unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) and underemployment rate,” a government spokesperson said in a statement released on Thursday.

The construction, retail, hospitality, and the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors were the hardest hit.

Hong Kong has recorded 1,016,944 Covid-19 cases and 5,401 deaths as of Friday.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.