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HONG KONG

Pension reforms Hong Kong-style a far cry from France’s social unrest

In Hong Kong, elderly can retire only at 65 if they want a state allowance
In Hong Kong, elderly can retire only at 65 if they want a state allowance RFI/Jan van der Made

While mass anti-government and anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong have temporarily stopped, three people tried to bring attention to another problem - Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s attempts to reform Hong Kong’s pension system. But unlike protesters in France, the public doesn't seem interested.

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Kelvin Ho and two friends spread a small poster on the ground near the exit of the Admiralty Metro station, just opposite the imposing high rise that contains the government’s offices.

It calls attention to the Hong Kong government's latest proposals for change of the social welfare system.

Just weeks ago, the government- and legislative council buildings were mobbed by thousands of angry protesters who managed to break through the barricades, climb inside, destroy furniture and spray painting anti-Beijing slogans on the walls.

But today, all is quiet, passers by hardly pay attention to Kelvin's mini demonstration and he  seems disappointed.

“The Chief Executive announced that two types of allowances for the elderly will be merged, ” he explains.

According to the website of the Chief Executive, two pension schemes are to be merged into one, resulting in a monthly payment of 3585 HK$(416 Euro)/month.

Poor enough

But Kelvin Ho says, in order to be eligible for the pension, people need to prove that they are “poor enough” to be able to receive it, and there will be checks of income and assets.

“We don’t think it is appropriate,” says Kelvin, who points out that lower middle class may miss out.

“It is the right for all the elderly to get a pension. So we are fighting for all pensions in Hong Kong, instead of an allowance that you get after a screening.

His proposal: 3500 HK$ (406 Euro) for everybody when they reach age 65 and no probes into one’s bank accounts or assets.

The proposed reforms of the Hong Kong pension system are part of a ten point plan that is designed to calm protesters without making any political concessions, says Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist with Baptist University.

Other moves include reducing public transport fares to only 23 eurocent for elderly and handicapped, providing cash allowance for low-income households under certain conditions and providing a time-limited cash allowance for the unemployed.

Two different places

Meanwhile, the actions in France, where trade unions have paralyzed public transport for close to 50 days in protest against the French government’s plans to change the pension system, puzzle him.

“Hong Kong and France are two different places. We don’t have any true democracy. Our government can do what it wants, no matter how strong the opposition against a policy is,” says Kalvin Ho.

He is aware of the bold plan of the French to raise the pension age from 62 to 64. But in Hong Kong, where people have to work until they are 65 before they receive a very basic pension, this sounds surreal.

“I think if they would implement Hong Kong’s pension policies in France, there would be a revolution,” he grins. “People would overthrow the government.”

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