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With Hong Kong’s economy reeling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a newspaper mogul has called on Chief Executive Carrie Lam to tap public coffers to pay two months’ wages for all. Photo: Nora Tam

Coronavirus: newspaper mogul calls on Lam to dip into public coffers to pay two months’ wages for all Hong Kong workers

  • Charles Ho points to countries like Britain, where wages have been subsidised to keep workers at home but employed
  • The Sing Tao News Corp chairman, a frequent critic of Lam’s, says double whammy of protests and Covid-19 have been severe blow to livelihoods

A Hong Kong newspaper mogul issued an open letter to the city’s beleaguered leader on Wednesday, urging her to use public funds to pay two months of wages across the private sector to keep workers employed.

In Charles Ho Tsu-kwok’s appeal, made in a full-page advertisement on the front-page of Sing Tao Daily, the Sing Tao News Corp chairman also urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to learn from other governments in formulating Covid-19 relief measures.

Ho’s letter came just hours before Lam announced that more than 1 million Hong Kong workers would have part of their wages paid for by the government under a HK$137.5 billion (US$17.7 billion) relief package aimed at helping businesses and residents struggling during the Covid-19 crisis.

Sing Tao News Corporation Chairman Charles Ho, a frequent critic of Carrie Lam, urged the chief executive to take her cues from such countries as Britain and Singapore. Photo: SCMP

Most of the massive package will go towards the wage plan, set to last for six months, which will target affected industries with payments capped at 50 per cent of employees’ salaries.

Speaking on Tuesday, Lam said many industry representatives had told her ensuring job security was critical and government help was needed to keep staff employed.

Ho, a standing committee member of Beijing’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, started off his letter by describing the anti-government protests, triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill in June, as a calamity, while labelling the coronavirus pandemic a “natural disaster”.

“My most respectable Chief Executive Lam, we have gone through the man-made catastrophe last year, and now we have this natural disaster. We really cannot be more unlucky,” Ho wrote.

Coronavirus, protests could see Hong Kong wages drop 20 per cent in 2020

“Other places are much more fortunate than us, because they did not have any man-made calamity. But for us, we have suffered serious injury.”

Ho lamented that under the double whammy of social unrest and Covid-19, people’s livelihoods have suffered alongside numerous businesses.

“Hong Kong people are in a bad mood. Can you make use of your wisdom in helping the city’s employees?” he urged.

“You don’t have to be creative. You can learn from other administrations, and pay two months of their wages, so that [the number of employees being] laid-off, who had their pay cut or are unemployed, as well as the people’s pain, can be minimised.”

Ho was referring to countries such as Britain and Singapore. In Britain, the government announced that it would pay grants covering up to 80 per cent of workers’ salaries, with the amount with the amount capped at £2,500 (HK$24,000) per month.

HK$30 billion relief package as government plans to bail out struggling industries

“Do something good for our businesses and employees. The power is in your hand, while this proposal is in my hand. We wait and see!” he wrote, before signing off as “Sorrowful Ho Tsu-kwok”.

In 2017, Ho supported and nominated Lam in the chief executive election, but their relationship quickly soured as the tycoon became increasingly frustrated by the city’s land shortage and growing social unrest.

In December, Ho ran a full-page advertisement, listing 12 areas of damage the protest movement had caused Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong was one of the safest cities in the world, but now it's a city that [governments] around the world have issued travel alerts against,” he wrote.

In February, Ho ran another full-page advertisement venting his disappointment with Lam, saying Hong Kong people would have only themselves to thank if they could overcome challenges facing the city, including the new coronavirus outbreak.

“It was because we made the effort. It was not because we relied on the chief executive to lead us,” he wrote.

The Post has contacted the Chief Executive Office seeking response.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Pay workers two months’ wages, tycoon says