Agency attacks tunnel company
By KEITH WALLIS
PLANS to import more than 130 tunnel workers for a key section of the $16 billion sewage disposal scheme have come under fire from a recruitment agency, which says enough local labour is available.
Local firm Harvard Engineering said contractors preferred to import workers because they were cheaper.
Director Leslie Hendry said two quotes from local workers were submitted to the Campenon Bernard/ Maeda (CBM) joint venture building the $1.5 billion sewerage tunnel network but they were both rejected.
On Monday CBM won approval from the Labour Advisory Board to bring in 132 tunnellers, mainly from the Philippines, although the deal has still to be approved by the Education and Manpower Branch.
The group's project manager Gilles Rolland said it had spent $150,000 on fruitless newspaper advertising trying to recruit local tunnellers.
Last month the South China Morning Post revealed how the sewerage scheme, one of Governor Chris Patten's high-profile projects, had been hit by a mounting manpower crisis.
Attempts to bring in foreign tunnellers had stalled. Five French and Australian technicians CBM was employing on tourist visas had to leave because immigration officials refused to give them work permits.
But Mr Hendry said there was no shortage of local tunnel workers.
'The problem . . . is that the wages demanded by local workers are higher than contractors are willing to pay,' he said.
Locals wanted a minimum of $750 a day in addition to severance and holiday pay.
'Overseas workers, including casuals from Britain and Australia, are available for a lot less,' Mr Hendry said.
About 64 workers are needed for each of the sewerage project's five tunnel faces.
Mr Rolland refused to comment on Mr Hendry's claims, but said the labour board's decision was a 'good first step'.
'We will submit the names of the people we want to bring in,' Mr Rolland said.