Foreign labour move affects stability

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 November, 2013, 4:49am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 5:01pm


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In the letter from Susan Chan, of the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong ("Let's discuss need to import more labour", November 12), people opposed to importing labour are described as taking the moral high ground. This comment is deeply offensive to all labour representatives.

Ms Chan cited foreign domestic helpers and local construction workers working in Macau as examples to criticise people for simply regarding labour importation as a black-and-white issue.

Together with other pragmatic trade unionists, the Federation of Trade Unions would never overlook any matters relating to labour. Regarding the labour importation issue, we have conducted research over the past three decades.

Your correspondent mentioned the import of labour to build Chek Lap Kok airport and implied the possibility of an influx of foreign workers. There were a number of labour disputes caused by workers brought in from abroad for the airport project, which proved time-consuming for the Legislative Council.

Ms Chan referred to foreign domestic helpers. The foreign helpers are here because of the trend of dual-career families in Hong Kong. These families do not necessarily earn a lot of money, but they have to rely on someone to look after their dependent elderly relatives or children. Hongkongers who work as domestic helpers cannot perform this role as they have their own families to take care of, so they cannot replace foreign helpers. Ms Chan's question asking whether hiring these maids from abroad is an act of labour exploitation is thus irrelevant to the issue.

A similar question asking if Hong Kong construction workers working in Macau harm Macau citizens' prospects of finding work, ignores the fact that the Hong Kong construction industry can apply for imported labour under the Supplementary Labour Scheme. Imported construction workers in both SARs are tightly regulated in order to safeguard local workers' job opportunities.

Import of labour is a very complicated issue. We should not consider just the number of unfilled vacancies and jump to conclusions which could cause instability in society. As an employee representative on the Labour Advisory Board, which is responsible for vetting and approving imported labour applications, I feel I am providing a holistic picture of labour importation in Hong Kong. Before we discuss the need to bring in more workers, we should have a good grasp of the issue.

Ng Chau-pei, employee member, Labour Advisory Board, chairman, Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions