Hong Kong’s unemployment rate rose to 5.4 per cent in the three months ending in April, the highest since last summer, as harsh Covid-related social-distancing curbs, including bar closures and restaurant restrictions, took a toll on businesses.

Around 206,100 people were jobless in the period from January to March, up by 17,600. The food and beverage sector was particularly hard hit, going up by 1.9 percentage points to record a 12.9 per cent unemployment rate.

Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Unemployment in the consumption- and tourism-related sectors saw a 1.1 percentage point rise to 10 per cent. The figure for the retail sector rose by 0.6 percentage point to 8.3 per cent.

Labour chief Law Chi-kwong said in a press release there should be an improvement in the coming months as the fifth wave of the pandemic eased. He said measures such as the consumption voucher and employment subsidy schemes would boost the economy.

The unemployment figures came a day after the Pay Trend Survey Committee released its latest recommendations on civil servant pay rises.

Pay rise for civil servants

The 2022 Pay Trend Survey report suggested a pay rise which would mean a net increase of 7.2 per cent for senior staff, 4.55 per cent for middle-rank employees and 2.04 per cent for lower-ranked staff.

Photo: Almond Li/HKFP

Labour sector lawmaker Chau Siu-chung said he hoped the government would follow the recommendations, as it would motivate civil servants, who experienced a pay freeze in the last two years.

He said the survey, which collected comparative pay data from private companies on a voluntary basis, may not truly reflect the economic situation under the fifth wave of Covid. But the findings could still serve as a reference for the government, as well as for private companies.

Morale booster

“If civil servants can receive a pay rise of the level suggested by the mechanism, not only can it increase their morale, it also provides hope to other workers in society… giving them confidence that they may also get a pay rise,” Chau told HKFP.

Li Kwai-yin, the president of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association, agreed that a salary hike would be good for morale, but perhaps the rise should not be as high as suggested by the survey.

“Society is still facing a difficult time. We do not want the salary of civil servants to become a point of contention or cause division,” Li said on a radio programme on Thursday.

Civil servants in Hong Kong experienced a pay freeze in the last two years as the city’s economy took a hit from Covid-19. The pay rise suggestions by the committee are subject to further confirmation and the final decision will be made by the government.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.