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Editorial : Abolition of MPF offsetting scheme

【明報專訊】THE policy address will be unveiled next week, which is expected to include a new scheme for the abolition of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) offsetting mechanism. The government is set to extend the subsidisation period for employers from 12 years to 25 years, with the amount of subsidisation boosted from $17.2 billion to around $30 billion. Given the fact that the new scheme will come into effect in 2022 at the earliest, the government will in effect be subsidising the business sector until 2047.

Hong Kong's GDP per capita exceeds US$46,000, which is higher than that of many advanced countries. But its social security is seriously lacking and the protection of labour rights is not up to par. Employees reap economic rewards that are not directly proportionate to their sweat and toil. The MPF offsetting mechanism is, in particular, detrimental to the labour rights of the people from lower social strata. The MPF scheme came into effect in December 2000. Back then the government, striving for the support of the business sector, agreed to the establishment of the offsetting mechanism. The mechanism allows employers to make severance payment and long service payment by drawing on the MPF account of an employee.

According to the new plan, the government will lengthen the period of subsidisation from 12 years to 25 years, and the amount of subsidisation will almost double to $30 billion. But employers remain non-committal, saying that "it is too early to say whether we can accept that", at the same time expressing the hope that the formula of the plan can be "further simplified". As the devil lies in the details, it deserves close observation whether the plan will be riddled with loopholes. The plan will come into effect in 2022 at the earliest, meaning that the period of subsidisation will end only in 2047. It is ridiculous and ironic that an arrangement that allows employers to shirk social responsibilities can "remain unchanged for 50 years", evolving all the way from 2000 and set to continue through to the middle of this century. What is even more worrying is that some people in the business sector, exploiting the government's willingness to foot the bill, might relish the experience so much that they will stick to their guns over every issue and demand that the government foot the bill. It will be extremely difficult to reverse such a trend after a precedent is set.

Some people in Hong Kong's business sector have often cited excuses such as "the harmful effects on the business environment" and "the stifling of the room for small- and medium-sized enterprises to survive" to oppose some very fundamental measures that protect labour rights such as the minimum wage, the abolition of the MPF offsetting mechanism, the implementation of standard working hours, the standardisation of labour holidays and the extension of maternity leave to meet international standards. However, the point is that the quality of a business environment is not directly related to the level of social welfare. Denmark has one of the highest levels of social welfare in Europe. According to the 2018 Doing Business report by the World Bank, Denmark's business environment is ranked third in the world, which is higher than Hong Kong (ranked fifth). If some people in the business sector find it hard to stomach the improvement of some basic labour rights, it will inevitably lead to doubts whether they can only achieve competitiveness by exploiting their employees. It deserves consideration whether such companies have any future to speak of.

明報社評2018.10.05:取消對冲補貼期漫長 商界卸膊「50年不變」

施政報告下周發表,預料將交代取消強積金對冲新方案,政府將延長對僱主的補貼期,由12年加至25年,補貼金額更由172億元增至約300億元,考慮到新方案最快2022年才實施,政府實際將長遠補貼商界到2047年。

香港人均GDP超過4.6萬美元,勝過不少發達國家,可是社會保障嚴重不足,勞工權益保障遜色,打工仔分享到的經濟成果,與付出的血汗不成正比,強積金對冲機制尤其損害基層勞工權益。強積金制度2000年12月實施,當年政府為爭取商界接受,同意設立「對冲機制」,容許僱主發放遣散費或長期服務金(下稱「兩金」)時,可以從僱員強積金戶口提取僱主供款冲消。

根據新方案,政府將把補貼期由12年延長至25年,金額亦差不多倍增至300億元,資方態度仍然不置可否,一邊說「是否收貨言之尚早」,一邊期望新方案計算方法可以「更加簡化」。魔鬼總在細節裏,新方案會否處處有空子可鑽,必須密切留意。新方案最快2022年實施,意味補貼期到2047年才結束。一套容許僱主推卸社會責任的安排,竟然可以「50年不變」,由2000年一路輾轉演化延續至本世紀中葉,既荒謬又諷刺,令人更憂慮的是,部分商界人士看準政府甘願包底的思維,可能食髓知味,未來在其他議題次次企硬要政府出錢,風氣既開,日後扭轉將極為困難。

本港部分商界人士常以「不利營商環境」、「扼殺中小企生存空間」為由,反對一些相當基本的保障勞工權益措施,諸如最低工資、取消強積金對冲、實施標準工時、劃一勞工假期,乃至延長產假看齊國際標準等,問題是一個地方營商環境良好與否,跟社會福利多寡沒有必然關係。丹麥是歐洲社會福利水平最高國家之一,根據世界銀行《2018年營商環境報告》,丹麥營商環境全球排名第3,更勝第5位的香港。如果部分商界人士對於改善基本勞工權益也覺得吃不消,難免令人質疑他們是否只能透過壓榨員工,才能保持競爭力,這樣的企業是否還有前途可言,值得深思。

■Glossary

non-committal : not giving an opinion; not showing which side of an argument you agree with

be riddled with sth : to be full of sth, especially sth bad or unpleasant

stomach : to approve of sth and be able to enjoy it; to enjoy being with a person

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