Public housing target unrealistic without imported labour

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 3:02am


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It is highly regrettable that Martin Brinkley chose to take a negative view of my well-intended and reasoned analysis of the chief executive's policy address ("Legislator distorting proposed standard working hours law", January 30).

As a directly elected member of the Legislative Council, my responsibility is to ensure the overall interest of the community and to help find workable solutions to urgent social and economic problems.

As surveys conducted immediately before the policy address indicated, there was a clear consensus that the housing problem is the priority.

There is now a queue of 210,000 applicants waiting for public housing. The chief executive intends to build 75,000 flats to shorten the waiting list and another 17,000 flats of subsidised housing for the sandwich class. He also estimated a total of 67,000 private housing flats would be built within the next five years. The total production of housing for the next five years will exceed total production of the past five years by about 50 per cent. Given the labour shortage in the construction sector, it is highly unlikely that his targets will be achieved.

This acute labour shortage will cause the cost of housing to skyrocket. Unless this is recognised and resolved, building targets cannot be realised, and the shortfall will most likely be in the public sector. So, what is wrong in proposing additional imported labour to build only public sector housing? Apart from this positive solution, can Mr Brinkley offer any other practical solution?

Also, the only way to increase supply of commercial offices, shops and hotels is through an increase in land supply, relaxing lease conditions of underused old buildings, and better urban planning. These tasks fall squarely in the lap of the government, but, in the past decade, it has failed to act despite being repeatedly asked to do so by the Liberal Party.

As for the standard working hours, the Liberal Party, unlike Mr Brinkley, listened attentively to the clear consensus of the business sector, whether small and medium-sized enterprises, or big corporations. They believe with a service economy like Hong Kong, it would be unwise to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to standard working hours, as different trades have different requirements.

The Liberal Party advocates working hours by mutual consent, so that the employer will have the flexibility he needs for his trade, while the worker will enjoy working hours agreed by the employment contract, beyond which he should be properly compensated.

James Tien, legislative councillor