Jobseekers shun travel cash offer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2006, 12:00am

Scheme to encourage work away from home districts attracts just 5 applicants

A plan by the financial secretary to encourage the unemployed to travel out of their home districts for work was poorly received in the first two weeks after its launch.

By April 13, only five jobseekers applied to join the $2.7 million Travel Support Scheme - announced by Henry Tang Ying-yen in this year's budget - which aims to encourage at least 1,500 people from the Yuen Long, Islands and North districts to find jobs elsewhere.

Only three have been approved. The other two were rejected as the applicants were receiving other government subsidies, according to the Employees Retraining Board, which administers the one-year pilot scheme launched on April 1.

Welfare agencies and legislators said the scheme was unattractive as the subsidy is capped at $1,500 per applicant - only enough to cover travel costs for the first month. Part of the subsidy has to be repaid later.

The Financial Secretary's Office and Employees Retraining Board denied the scheme was a failure, as it had just started and was interrupted by the Easter holiday.

But critics said a longer-term subsidy was needed to encourage recipients to stay in their jobs.

'The travel expenses are so high,' unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said. 'How can the families continue to afford the cost after the first month of employment? Also, it is not worth the administrative cost to give out such a small amount.'

The scheme is open to those completing job training provided by 58 designated organisations.

Between April 1 and 13, about 250 people completed the training, which is free for two and four weeks. Applicants have to be non-CSSA recipients and should not have more than $22,000 in liquid assets.

Mr Lee said the government should provide a long-term subsidy of $300 to $500 a month to keep recipients in their jobs until their pay increased to a reasonable level.

His colleague, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, also chairman of the Legislative Council's welfare services panel, said the scheme was too restrictive. 'Only a small number of people are eligible under the scheme, which is strictly confined to those who have completed the specific job training and are from the three districts,' he said.

Peter Kwan Kin-shing, director of the Hong Kong Student Aid Society, which provides welfare services in Kwun Tong and Yuen Long, shared their views. 'The more effective way is to promote the local economy in those districts to create jobs. We suggest having a more long-term subsidy that lasts for six to 12 months for low-income families, with the hope they will enjoy a pay rise after the economy has further improved,' Mr Kwan said.

The retraining board said the scheme was still in a preliminary stage after just two weeks, including the Easter break.