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Monday, February 2, 2015, 08:58

HK prepares for an aging society

By Joseph Li in Hong Kong

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said demographic changes would have a significant impact on Hong Kong.

At present, about 15 percent, or 1.07 million, of the 7.2 million population in Hong Kong are aged 65 and over. It is estimated that by 2041 the elderly population will have surged to 2.56 million. This means one in three people will be a senior citizen.

At the same time, the fertility rate of local women is low at 1.2 per woman, compared with the international standard of 2.1. As a result, it is anticipated that there will be a drastic drop in the size of the working population, from 3.71 million in 2018 to 3.01 million in 17 years’ time.

“The aging population will severely affect productivity and economic development,” Cheung said. “Therefore, a well-planned population policy is necessary to unleash the working population and provide job opportunities.”

Multi-pronged measures are being taken, which Cheung believes will prompt thousands of people to return to the job market. For instance, over 500,000 women under 59, mostly from the grassroots, do not work because they need to care for their families. If support services are offered, such as child care, they can take on full or part-time jobs.

To help working mothers, the government will subsidize welfare agencies to extend child care services to 8 pm. It will also encourage more businesses to open child care centers.

At the new government offices panned for Tseung Kwan O, child care services will be provided for working mothers.

Cheung said it was “a waste” for people to retire too early as many who retire at 60 were still fit and healthy. Accordingly, the government will extend the retirement age to 65 for new recruits, while extension of civil servant retirement ages is still subject to approval by department heads.

In a pilot scheme, the government will work with welfare agencies to provide training on child care for grandparents. They will then also be able to look after their grandchildren to free up working mothers.

People do not like grandparents taking care of children, thinking they are old-fashioned. But with modern child care training, Cheung believes parents will have greater confidence in grandparents. This could also improve family relations.

The government will also try to attract skilled workers from the mainland and Hong Kong citizens who have moved overseas.

Cheung said it is necessary to import skilled construction workers because of a local shortage of such workers. But he said local workers will get first priority.

Justifying labor import schemes, he said annual investment in infrastructure projects is up to HK$170 billion. The government envisages a shortage of 10,000-15,000 skilled workers in the next five years.

“For … dangerous, dirty and difficult work, young people are unwilling to join the trade, making labor importation most necessary.”

He advised trade unions to set aside beliefs that this will “break the rice bowl” of local workers. Importing labor is merely a short-term approach.


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