Row escalates over care home nurses
Nursing home managers protested outside the chief executive's office yesterday, urging an end to a Labour Advisory Board boycott of foreign workers that they say has placed 'unfair' strain on centres for the elderly and disabled.
Representatives from eight care homes said their services were disrupted and their staff forced to work longer hours due to staff shortages.
The union side of the board refused to process applications of overseas workers on October 31 after they found that companies had been bypassing them and importing workers through the Immigration Department. Negotiations are deadlocked.
'It is unfair to punish those of us who go by the rules,' said Richard Lee Pak-ying, convenor of the Services for Disabilities and Elderly Alliance. He estimated that 10 to 20 homes had been affected by the boycott.
Leung Chau-ting, one of the six union representatives on the 12-member board, said 49 applications submitted this month had been held up, of which 30 were for nursing staff at care homes. But he said he believed only a small proportion of the homes were affected and the stoppage was only temporary.
'They shouldn't be relying on imported workers in the long run and should increase wages to attract local workers,' Leung said.
But a nursing home in Tai Kok Tsui looking after 135 elderly people lost half of its eight daytime nursing staff after their visas expired this month - and the board halted the renewal of visas.
'We have been desperately trying to recruit to fill the vacancies, but it has been very difficult as the nature of the work is difficult. Even if you pay up to HK$35 an hour, many people are not willing to do it,' said the home's manager, Wong Ka-cheong.
The staff who left were paid an hourly wage of HK$28 and others were paid HK$30 an hour.
He said he submitted visa renewal applications to the Labour Department in July for his workers at Sun Man Fook Aged Home, but did not receive a response.
The labour shortage has put stress on the remaining staff at the home, some of whom used to work 11 hours a day, but now have to put in three extra hours each day.
The board must process and approve companies' applications to import workers under its Supplementary Labour Scheme. But board members found that most companies opted for the immigration bureau's General Employment Policy, which had a higher rate of approval.
Lee, the alliance convenor, said fewer local workers were choosing nursing-home jobs after the minimum wage was implemented in May, bringing salaries for low-skilled jobs on par with nursing jobs.
'Now that all are paid at least HK$28 an hour, people have more choices and they would rather wash dishes or work as cleaners,' he said.
Some managers were worried that they could be prosecuted for not meeting staffing requirements, Lee said. Care homes must have one carer for every 20 residents.
The Labour Department said it was studying the board's dispute and hoped vetting would resume soon.