HK$300m short-term boost for welfare pay
Cash-strapped welfare organisations have been promised a chance to share in as much as HK$300 million under short-term government relief measures announced yesterday.
About two-thirds of the money has been earmarked for welfare groups to increase staff pay.
New services introduced from today will also be exempted from the so-called enhanced productivity programme and efficiency savings - which ask staff to work longer for the same pay.
And welfare workers who are paid below the midpoint level will have their pay raised to the midpoint from April.
The measures represent another government concession and follow sustained pressure from social workers demanding better pay.
But last night, social workers criticised the relief measures as a 'Band-Aid solution'.
Director of Social Welfare Stephen Fisher said the measures were advanced in response to the demands of the welfare sector.
'We shall apply for a one-off grant of HK$200 million from the Lotteries Fund Advisory Committee to assist those organisations with financial or recruitment problems,' Mr Fisher said.
'In the market, the starting salaries of many posts have been raised. This may make it more difficult for organisations to recruit new staff.
'We hope that the HK$200 million can help them to make their pay packages more attractive.'
However, Social Workers General Union president Peter Cheung Kwok-che expressed disappointment, saying the department had failed to find long-term solutions.
Referring to the HK$200 million grant, Mr Cheung said: 'There is no use putting a Band-Aid on a deep wound. What if the grant is used up? How can a welfare organisation get the money to pay social workers? We want long-term, stable funding.'
Hong Kong Council of Social Service chief executive Christine Fang Meng-sang said long-term manpower planning would be impossible without stable funding.
Ms Fang said recurrent funding needed to be increased by HK$600 million a year.
Mr Fisher said the package was meant as a short-term relief measure.
On the sector's demand to increase recurrent subventions in the long run, Mr Fisher said it was under consideration and hopefully could be sorted out in two to three months.
At the centre of the saga is the lump-sum grant system, introduced by the government in 2000 to contain funding to non-government welfare groups. Before the new system, the government covered all spending by welfare groups. Under the grant system, welfare organisations are given a lump sum and decide staff deployment and wages. They say the government subsidies fall short of their needs.
Social workers claimed the system resulted in reduced pay and thus loss of manpower. They have been campaigning to abolish the system.
In November, about 3,000 social workers went on strike and staged a rally outside the department's offices. The protest degenerated into clashes.
Last month, the department bowed to pressure and agreed to set up an independent panel to review the system. A report is expected in the second half of this year.
Of the government's grant, the pay component for social workers (in HK dollars) is about $200m