The Labour Department plans to recruit retired police officers to investigate employers suspected of manipulating a government fund to force it to pay their workers back wages and severance pay. That is one of 11 measures labour officials presented to lawmakers yesterday as ways to help prevent employers from abusing the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund. Possible abuse of the fund was suspected after recent restaurant closures, including that of Ocean Palace Restaurant and Nightclub in Tsim Sha Tsui, left workers without their final salary and severance payments. Catering businesses made up 55 per cent of the 2,930 applications to the insolvency fund in the first three months of this year, up from 34 per cent in the same period last year. Government officials are considering long-term measures to prevent abuse, such as requiring all restaurant owners to provide bank guarantees to guard against defaults in payment and compelling firms to recognise the liability for severance pay on their balance sheets. Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan said these were preliminary ideas and that he was open to comments. 'We think these are worth considering,' he told members of the manpower panel yesterday. The proposed measures were welcomed by some unionists on the panel, but lawmakers from the pro-business Liberal Party said some of the options would not be feasible. Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, legislator representing the catering constituency, said the recent closures of businesses in his sector were individual cases and should not be used as a benchmark to judge the industry as a whole. It would not be feasible to have restaurant owners provide bank guarantees, as that could be a large sum based on the salaries paid to workers, he said. Mr Cheung asked officials to focus their attention instead on prosecuting employers who abused the fund. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said: 'Some employers think that this fund is like an ATM. They plan their closure around it and calculate payments from the fund into it so that they don't have to be responsible in paying their employees.'