Immigration 'hit by staff crisis'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2007, 12:00am

Frontline workers in the Immigration Department say they are facing a staffing crisis and desperately need recruits to ease the workload and reduce stress.

The chairman of the Immigration Department Rank and File General Union, Alex Chu, rebuked the department and urged it to step up action to relieve staffing shortages.

Mr Chu feared that the present tight manpower levels could not keep pace with the influx of tourists and the opening of new control checkpoints.

He said that last year the number of visitors visiting the city tipped 25 million, an 8.1 per cent increase on 2005.

Despite the rapid growth, only four extra staff were recruited for the front line throughout the year.

Two new control checkpoints requiring extra manpower will open in the middle of the year.

Mr Chu said the shortages were especially acute at border checkpoints such as Lo Wu, where travellers from the mainland had complained about slow processing. Mr Chu said that since December there had been a couple of times when border processing had taken about 90 minutes.

'Some mainland tourists became rowdy while waiting. Some of them even pushed the fence over to show their discontent,' he said. 'As a tourist hub, the slow processing may affect the city's image.'

The union also claimed many members had been hit by ailments caused by long working hours. Its vice-chairman, Wong Chin-pang, has worked as a senior immigration assistant at the airport for 16 years. About three years ago, the left side of his spinal cord became numb because of work hours.

The union said the situation had been getting worse and some staff could not even take sick leave despite their work pressures.

An official said the Immigration Department was aware of the pressure frontline workers faced, adding that more than 400 staff would be recruited this year.

The official said the recruits would help ease the burden on frontline operations.

At present, the union has 3,000 members from three rankings, including immigration assistant, senior immigration assistant and chief immigration assistant.