Labour imports 'only solution', Liberal insists
ANGELA LI and GENEVIEVE KU
Importing labour is the only practical option for the building industry, according to Ho Sai-chu of the Liberal Party.
Although he acknowledged it was not ideal, Mr Ho said there would not be enough local labour to cope with the soaring demand for construction workers.
He was speaking on the second day of a debate on a motion of thanks moved by House Committee chairman Dr Leong Che-hung.
'If housing or infrastructure projects are delayed due to an inadequate supply of skilled workers, it will lead to an increase in costs,' Mr Ho said.
'The soaring costs will eventually be shifted to the citizens or buyers,' he said.
Mr Ho dismissed the Democratic Party's claims that local construction workers were already having a hard time finding jobs, and that importing more labour would deal them a further blow.
He attacked a recent Democratic Party survey as 'unscientific and unfair' because, he said, it was conducted in several restaurants frequented by jobless construction workers.
'It was unnecessary to conduct the survey since the conclusion was pre-drawn,' Mr Ho said.
'The situation is as absurd as going to the church during a Sunday worship to survey how many people are Christians.' Ousted Democratic Party legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo earlier said that 95 per cent of the 256 construction workers who responded to the poll had been underemployed over the past six months.
But Chan Kam-lam of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong said it was still too early to talk about labour importation.
Mr Chan said experience had shown that the supply of construction workers had great flexibility.
'The unemployment and underemployment rates for the construction industry were 3.9 per cent and 8.7 per cent respectively in 1996. That shows that there is plenty of manpower available in the market,' Mr Chan said.
He urged the Government to provide training for particular types of work which experienced labour shortages as construction neared completion.
Fifty-five legislators have spoken during the two-day motion debate.
The debate was adjourned until next Wednesday, when policy secretaries will give their replies.