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December 2015

SCMP–any sub-editors left?

OK, it’s Christmas, but the Sunday Morning Post is supposed to be an English language newspaper.

Debate over MPF protection rages on

Jennifer Ngo | Sunday Morning Post | Sunday, 27 December, 2015

The row over the Mandatory Provident Fund’s offsetting mechanism continues as civil society criticised the government’s lack of commitment in dealing with the problem which had caused a lot of those in the lower-working class to lose their retirement savings.

The offsetting mechanism - where employees’ retirement funds are used to cover their severance or long-service payments by the employers when their job is terminated, or ends - saw 43,500 employees lose a total of HK$3 billion in 2014, according to statistics in the public consultation on retirement protection.

But Wong Shek-hung, advocacy officer at Oxfam Hong Kong, criticised that the government still refuse tto commit to cancelling the mechanism, despite of it being obviously detrimental to helping employees save up for retirement.

“As long as the offsetting mechanism exists, the working class employees will continue to suffer,” said Hung, in a radio show yesterday.

An average of 94 per cent of the employers’ contribution to MPF used up in offsetting, the consultation revealed. And for employees who have a monthly income of HK$7,100 or less - which mean they don’t need to contribute to MPF, only their employers do - this would mean when they leave their job, they leave with no retirement funds saved up at all, because the funds are used to pay off severance or long-service payments.

However, the government stated in the consultation that offsetting is “a complicated matter”, and “cannot be simply retained or done-away with”, and said that the consultation was to “see if employers and employees can come to a compromise and balanced decision”.

Wong said the unjust system had costed the lowest tier of the working class to lose even their meagre retirement savings kept in the MPF system, and said the government should work towards completely abolishing the mechanism.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor denied that the government is shirking away from the offsetting mechanism debate, and that the government “has the determination to deal with the issue”, but that it would take a long-term discussion and examination over whether abolishing it would create big problems for employers.


The Juliet Letters

Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet

The Amadeus Centre, London W9

1 July 1992

This is inspired by reading Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Elvis Costello’s recently published autobiography

imageExactly a year after the Hammersmith Odeon gigs, where Elvis Costello was overweight, bearded and apparently angry, what a transformation…

The Amadeus Centre could scarcely be a more different venue.  It was originally a Welsh Presbyterian chapel, and has been converted into an arts centre (and, apparently, a wedding venue).  The main space was set out with tables and chairs (with food and drink being served), and many of the guests were Costello’s friends and relatives.  I was in the cheap seats upstairs, and for the interval we repaired to the pub across the road for refreshments.

Elvis Costello looked much happier, minus the beard and the excess weight of a year earlier, but I had no idea what to expect – would it be his songs played with a string quartet? 

1992-07-01_LondonsetlistNo.  He had written 20 or so songs with different members of the Brodsky Quartet (Michael Thomas and his sister Jacqueline, Ian Belton, and Paul Cassidy).  The idea came from a newspaper article about a Veronese professor who decided to answer all the letters addressed to Juliet Capulet. The five of them worked together to develop ideas for letters, which were then set to music.

Once we had a title and had settled on the letter as our lyrical form, the variations came to us very easily: a child’s note, a postcard from a regretful lover, the reply of an eccentric aunt to a begging letter from scheming relations.

Everything about it was astonishing.  Costello’s vocal performance, the lyrics, the musical accompaniment, the venue, the atmosphere.  Costello was clearly reinvigorated by working in a totally different medium (and having to learn to write four-part musical scores).  Fortunately this was just one of many collaborations over the coming years.

Apparently the “classical” critics were rather unenthusiastic at the time, but subsequently it has been performed and recorded by other string quartets, and adapted for other mediums including a jazz quartet and a dance performance.

For me, of course, it will always be about that first performance in London nearly 25 years ago.