Obscene pay disparity won't be solved by importing unskilled workers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 4:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 4:51am

I wish to comment on Chief Secretary Carrie Lam's Cheng Yuet-ngor's suggestion that "we need to consider a more effective system of hiring foreign workers without jeopardising the interests of local workers" ("A greying Hong Kong must grow more nimble to survive", October 25).

We do not need more unskilled or semi-skilled workers permitted into Hong Kong.

The so-called growing "labour shortage" is exploited by big business to maintain the status quo and hold down local wages for lower-paid staff.

This was a former colonial strategy for maximising profits and maintaining the ability to pay very high salaries to expatriate officer grades.

Later, as localisation crept in and expatriates were replaced, the extreme differences in salaries and benefits were inherited but kept in place by the new class of local "officer" grades.

This is the reason there is to this day such a huge disparity in the earnings of junior and senior staff. Nowhere else in the world are these unjust and inequitable differences in benefits so great.

Some British companies here posing as Hong Kong companies even maintain their bias towards employing Caucasian expatriates, claiming that qualified local people are unavailable, "unsuitable" or "not up to standard". This is nonsense.

The companies concerned, even if unable to find qualified local people, could have introduced appropriate training schemes long ago and replaced their overpaid expatriates with local talent instead of maintaining their large, expensive expatriate cost base.

We read the other day in this newspaper of an expatriate pilot earning HK$165,000 a month while airport ground workers at Chek Lap Kok are lucky to earn one tenth of this.

In Europe and the United States, an experienced senior pilot could expect to earn at the very most only double the pay of other airport ground workers. And in the US the difference between pilots' pay and that of other airport workers is considerably lower.

This colonial-age baggage of obscene pay and benefits inequality has to go.

The pay of lower-grade workers has to be permitted to rise and progressively catch up with the higher pay of senior grades.

Allowing in more low-skilled workers to Hong Kong will not help address this continuing unconscionable pay disparity.

P. A. Crush, Sha Tin