Anti-epidemic Fund - continuing support to construction industry
As the epidemic of COVID-19 has swept through the world, the Government earlier rolled out the first round of the Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF), which offered over $900 million to support the construction sector in strengthening anti-epidemic measures in order to reduce the risk of viral infection and spreading among construction workers. As at mid-April, about 210 000 frontline workers and 5 200 relevant enterprises have applied for the subsidies and the total amount disbursed exceeded $510 million. On 8 April, the Chief Executive announced a new round of relief measures, among which over $4.3 billion will be further set aside to help the construction sector tide over the economic hard time brought by the epidemic.
Benefiting more than 530 000 workers
Under the new round of measures, a one-off subsidy of $7,500 will be provided to each eligible construction worker, and more than 530 000 workers will directly benefit from the subsidy. Besides those working on construction sites, workers registered under the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, the Buildings Department, the Water Supplies Department and the Fire Services Department are also included. The number of workers who will benefit in the second round is higher than that in the first round. Construction workers usually work on a daily or casual basis without regular employers and in general do not have Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) accounts. Therefore, they cannot benefit from the Employment Support Scheme, which is based on MPF accounts, in the second round of the AEF. This one-off subsidy arrangement can provide wage subsidies to frontline workers.
Benefiting small-scaled enterprises
Meanwhile, the second round of the AEF will provide a one-off subsidy to about 30 000 construction-related enterprises, generally small-scaled, which cannot benefit from the first-round measures, to help them fight the epidemic. Eligible contractors, specialist contractors, works contractors and suppliers will be provided with a one-off subsidy of $20,000 each, while eligible minor works contractors, registered contractors of electrical, gas, lift/escalator and fire service installation, as well as eligible suppliers of construction-related machineries and equipment rental will receive a subsidy of $10,000 each.
Providing training subsidies to the construction sector
Furthermore, with the continuous impact of the epidemic, the construction sector is expected to adopt various measures to reduce their operating costs, including the cutting of training expenditures. Therefore, we will provide training subsidies to some 600 consulting firms that offer construction and related engineering professional services. The subsidies for each company will be $50,000, involving about $30 million in total. According to the Executive Director of the Construction Industry Council (CIC), Mr CHENG Ting-ning, Albert, under the concept of “Construction 2.0” put forward by the Development Bureau, there is a strong need for the construction sector to provide continuous training to professional staff to enhance their professional knowledge and skill levels. He says the professionals can use the subsidies to learn new skills and acquire knowledge of innovative technology application, such as Building Information Modelling technology, Modular Integrated Construction and Design for Manufacture and Assembly, to equip themselves in order to cope with the rapid development of the industry.
Speedy disbursement is our objective
Mr Albert CHENG says that the COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in the under-employment of many frontline workers. Some have even been out of work. Therefore, the subsidies can be called a “timely relief” that provides immediate support to our workers.
I am thankful to the CIC for helping the Government handle the first and second rounds of applications, and disburse subsidies to beneficiaries. Mr Albert CHENG says that application procedures will be made as simple as possible. Workers who have applied for subsidies under the first round of the AEF will not need to submit second-round applications, so that subsidies can be disbursed to them swiftly. The CIC will announce other application details shortly.
Providing appropriate support to the construction sector
In view of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Government has also put in place other measures to support the construction sector, which include flexibly handling applications for extension of time under the existing contract provisions for public works, introducing more frequent milestones where practicable with a view to expediting payments, and offering development projects a free extension of the Building Covenant period by up to six months in land leases. We will closely monitor the impact on the construction industry as the epidemic develops, and maintain close liaison with the CIC and the construction industry. We will provide appropriate support to the industry and workers in a timely manner. Let’s fight the virus together, and support Hong Kong together.
19 April, 2020