SINGAPORE - The Manpower Ministry (MOM) is distributing 35,000 hongbao this Chinese New Year. But there is a catch - the hongbao are empty.
Printed with the ministry's Workfare logo, the hongbao are being distributed in packets of 10 to workers for use during Chinese New Year.
Workfare was introduced in 2007 to raise the income of low-wage workers through wage supplements and training grants.
While banks and commercial firms typically distribute hongbao during Chinese New Year, MOM is believed to be the only ministry that is using them to publicise a government scheme. And it has been printing these Workfare hongbao from "as early as 2010", a spokesman said.
In a letter to printing firms last month, MOM said that it picked hongbao because they "act as a practical product for use during the festive season".
MOM also spelt out how it wants them to look.
They are about the size of an adult's palm and feature a goat design with "appropriate festive greetings in either Chinese or English". The coming Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 19, is the start of the Year of the Goat, based on the Chinese zodiac cycle.
"The overall look and feel of the red packet should be professional, festive and visually attractive. The Workfare brand should be clearly displayed," MOM added.
The ministry is roping in its statutory boards - the Central Provident Fund Board and Singapore Workforce Development Agency - to distribute the hongbao.
It declined to say how much the latest publicity blitz will cost. A check with the Government's e-commerce website showed that the ministry appointed a printer to print the 35,000 hongbao for $4,340 last Thursday.
The ministry's unusual move drew support from some.
"It is a good idea. So simple," said MP Zainal Sapari, who is the National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general spearheading the unions' drive to boost low-wage workers' well-being.
Mr David Leong, managing director of human resource firm People Worldwide Consulting, called it "out-of-the-box thinking" but added that there are some limits to using hongbao for publicity.
"There is clutter from other red packets and the goat design can be used only within a short and specific period," he said. "You also cannot put too many messages on the red packets."
Condominium security guard Lim B.S., in his 60s, said that he does not really pay attention to the logos on hongbao. "As long as the design is attractive, I will use it."
This article was first published on February 8, 2015.
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