• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 6:45am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Importing foreign workers into Hong Kong must be an option

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 4:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 4:32am

Unionists are up in arms as labour importation is back on the government agenda. This is hardly surprising, given their knee-jerk opposition to any step they think will have an impact on work opportunities for locals. Retraining is their answer when employers complain of manpower shortages.

Unfortunately, the invisible hand of the free market does not always function as effectively as it should. Even with government intervention, retraining takes time. Meanwhile, the city's competitiveness and development are hampered by serious manpower shortages. As the economy and unemployment situations are relatively stable, it is time for a rational discussion on labour importation.

The issue has been put into perspective in the public engagement exercise on population policy. Instead of just tackling it as a labour issue, it has been tied to the city's changing demographics, which ultimately affects development and competitiveness. According to the government, the number of private sector vacancies rose almost 10 per cent year-on-year to 77,900 in June. The figures for construction, information and communication, transport and retail are even higher, ranging between 18 and 74 per cent. The situation is not helped by a 17-year-old importation scheme that leading chambers of commerce have criticised as too rigid and outdated. By 2012, there were only 2,415 imported low-skilled workers, representing just 0.1 per cent of the workforce.

The labour sector is understandably concerned about the impact of a relaxed scheme. But past experience shows there was no serious abuse. As long as the scheme is carefully administered, jobs for locals should not be affected.

The question is no longer whether we should bring in more foreign workers to fill vacancies. As mentioned in the consultation paper, the question is how to make our system of labour importation more effective without jeopardising the interests of local workers.

Our global competitiveness hinges on a sustainable supply of manpower. Places like Macau and Singapore have long ditched the protectionist mindset to bring in foreign workers to power development. More than a quarter of their workforces are now filled by non-locals. If some sectors can prove that they are having genuine difficulties in recruiting, importation should be an option for consideration.


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This article is now closed to comments

Hong Kong doesn’t have the condition that other cities have to import workers without impunity. How are we to justify those newcomers in making the waiting list for affordable housing ever longer? That is assuming that housing shortage has been resolved which hasn’t. The unexamined need of immigrants as a workforce would only agreed upon by dishonestly looking away from the need using illegal shared flats as accommodation.
Here, the burden is truly on the government to see the shortage of labors as claimed must not be a solution that creates even more problems – from increasing housing shortage to employment stagnation for local labors. Hong Kong government exists for the COMMON good. Hong Kong is not any other city – a fewer construction workers albeit we need them for housing (if we have land) and mainly shop keepers will not make Hong Kong in destitute.
jobless rate stands @3.xx something now, so what about if it goes up like in 1998, SARS, 2009 ?
can you stand the loads of foreign labor at that point ? grassroots earner will get crush, while the rich industrialists care for nobody accept for themselves !!!


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