The tough, hard but well-paid life of a bar-bender
Bending metal bars in an exposed construction site might be a tough, sweaty job, but how about helping to build some of Hong Kong's most iconic structures and getting very well-paid in the process?
Young Post meets Luk Kwan-ngai, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Bar-bending Workers' Union.
Perseverance and physical strength are the two key qualities employers seek. Luk says you must be prepared for heavy, physically demanding work, often under the scorching sun in a dirty environment.
For example, although many tasks in construction sites are mechanised today, you still need to transport loads of heavy metal bars and assemble them. The job involves dangerous procedures.
Education is not essential. The latest batch of 40 prospective employees who approached Luk come from varied backgrounds. They are mainly junior high or high school graduates or those who are seeking a career change, such as clerks, and interior design and logistics workers. Luk, however, notes that a good knowledge of Chinese and English can help them climb the corporate ladder.
To get started, you will need specific training. You can only get that from the Construction Industry Council's training centre. The 97-day course takes place on a mock building site. You will learn how to use tools and materials, bar-bending techniques and safety guidelines.
Luk began the back-breaking job at the age of 15 and retired last year at 64. He thinks the main attractions of the job are good pay and the satisfaction of completing a building project. He spoke proudly of working on the HSBC main building in Central and Park Lane Shopper's Boulevard in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Luk points out that the work is project-based and unstable. Workers usually follow a contractor. At times, he did not have any work for months.
With 60 per cent of Hong Kong's 3,000 bar-benders aged 50 and above, Luk says the industry is looking for new blood, offering around 1,500 jobs.
There are more construction projects in the pipeline over the next 10 years, he said. The government has announced 10 major infrastructure projects and the private property market is booming. This will lead to a rising demand for construction workers.
With adequate experience, you can become a contractor with administrative and leadership roles. Then you can negotiate new contracts with companies.
Apprentices can expect to start at HK$600 per day, moving up to HK$1,100 per day, or about HK$20,000 a month. The union announced last month that construction workers will receive a 35 per cent pay rise within three years, bringing their daily wage to HK$1,490.
Where to apply
After new workers graduate from the Construction Industry Council's training centre, the Hong Kong Bar-Bending Contractors' Association will usually approach the school with job offers. Applicants can also approach the Hong Kong Construction Industry Bar-Bending Workers' Union directly.
A day at work
A multi-storey building project begins with laying foundations followed by erecting its frame of steel and concrete, and finishing with the interior fit-out. Bar benders are mostly involved in the first two steps, especially making and erecting the reinforcing rods and moulds into which concrete is poured.
Bar-bending operations can be divided into three phases. First, the contractor interprets the construction plan, particularly the concrete and metal structures designed by architects and engineers and approved by the government. He then divides the work among his workers.
Second, workers cut metal into different sizes and shapes, tie them together and haul them up to different locations like pillars, stairs, walls and beams.
Finally, they will assemble the parts according to the plans and bind them together securely. When it is good to go, the site is passed on to concreting teams. Bar-benders typically work eight hours a day.