Unions boycott Imported labour
Workers' representatives on the Labour Advisory Board will stop processing Supplementary Labour Scheme applications after discovering that some firms have been 'bypassing' them and importing workers through another programme.
Leung Chau-ting, part of the 12-member board, said yesterday that several companies had hired foreign or mainland workers through the Immigration Department's General Employment Policy (GEP), which had a higher rate of approval.
'We are furious that employers can apply for labour importation without coming to us,' said Leung, a union chairman. 'We are concerned that Hong Kong's workers will be deprived of job opportunities.'
The board, which has an equal number of members representing employers and employees, advises the labour commissioner on policy and regularly assesses and approves applications under the scheme, or SLS. The scheme allows employers experiencing 'genuine difficulties' finding suitable local staff to import labour at 'technician level or below'.
Last year, the board approved 1,180 SLS applications out of 2,340. In contrast, 26,881 mainland and overseas workers were allowed into Hong Kong under the GEP, which is open to non-Hong Kong graduates with special skills, knowledge or experience not available in the city.
Unionist legislator Li Fung-ying likened the GEP to a 'black box', saying its screening process was unclear.
'We cannot see whether it refuses any application. There is no involvement of labour, no monitoring and checks,' Li said.
Leung cited the case of Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (Haeco), which suddenly did not apply for SLS approval, after seeking about 140 overseas workers annually in previous years.
'In the end, we found out the company employed 149 workers directly through the Immigration Department under [GEP],' he said.
Haeco had only been allowed under the SLS to import 100 workers a year and was required to also hire and train Hongkongers.
'There are no such requirements under the Immigration Department's policy,' Leung said. 'We fear that other than Haeco, other companies are also bypassing us.'
A Haeco spokesman confirmed it chose to switch schemes this year. 'The reason we applied for a different scheme was that we no longer needed mechanics this year,' the spokesman said. 'This year we are hiring aircraft-maintenance licensed technicians, for which the required qualification is higher.'
However, Ip Wai-ming, a lawmaker representing the Federation of Trade Unions, said the nature of the two jobs cited by Haeco was similar.
The Labour Advisory Board's worker representatives urged the government to review the two schemes and protect the interests of Hong Kong workers.
The Labour Department did not say if it would look into the issue but urged the board members to resume their duties.