The outgoing chief executive has had five years to end a practice that allowed employers to take severance and long service pay out of employees’ pension, but has made no progress
Leung Chun-ying is a man in a hurry. With barely two more weeks in office, the outgoing chief executive is desperate to fulfil an election promise he made five years ago to overhaul a key compensation mechanism under the Mandatory Provident Fund pension scheme.
While it’s usually a good thing for political leaders to try to keep their promises, this is not the case here. Leung has come up with a half-baked proposal that even members of his own Executive Council can’t agree on, let alone opposing representatives from labour and the business sector.
His successor, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, is fully acquainted with the issues. It would make more sense for her administration to work out the reform plan than trying to force through a compromised solution that will not satisfy anyone.
The so-called offsetting mechanism has long enabled bosses to make payments for long service and severance using contributions they have already paid into the pension funds of departing employees.
Under this mechanism, bosses offset HK$3.85 billion last year from the cost of pensions– up 70 per cent from HK$2.27 billion in 2012.
Leung has promised to phase out this practice, which many consider exploitative, over 10 years with a government subsidy of HK$7.9 billion to help employers meet such obligations.
Neither the labour nor business sectors were happy with what the government had proposed.
Under the latest government plan, bosses would still be allowed to offset long service payments while being barred from doing so for severance payments. Now, even Leung’s own cabinet can’t reach a consensus on the revised proposal.
But Leung has gone on the offensive by criticising alternatives put forward by labour and business representatives. He insists there is no time left and that his latest is the only workable plan.
Who is he kidding? The only one who has no time left is him.
And he has no one to blame but himself – and perhaps Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the former secretary for labour and welfare and currently the chief secretary.
They have had five years to work out an overhaul of the offsetting mechanism, yet allowed negotiations to drag on fruitlessly for two of those years. Then came the boycott of those negotiations by union leaders.
Precious time was wasted, and so here we are. Time’s up, CY. It’s too late in the day. Let Carrie Lam take care of it from here.