Higher productivity needed on construction sites

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:17am

I totally agree with Jake van der Kamp's view on the issues pertaining to rising wages ("Rising wages pay off in the end for a world city", November 19).

He quotes Thomas Ho On-sing, president of the Hong Kong Construction Association ("Industry leaders fear manpower shortage crisis", November 18), who said, "A cement mixer with no experience is getting paid HK$1,100 a day". This reflects much of the construction industry in Hong Kong.

I refer specifically to the building sector, where masonry is still prevalent. Masonry is low-productivity and wages keep rising. There needs to be a shift to higher productivity products. Instead of using masonry, developed countries have been using plasterboard for their homes and commercial buildings for a long time.

In Asia, Singapore and Japan are already way ahead of Hong Kong and their construction sites produce more walls per square foot with less labour.

Importing foreign labour to put up buildings with outdated and low-productivity methods will only create more problems for an already congested Hong Kong. Even the Singaporean government has had a backlash from voters in the last election on the issue of foreign workers and is now looking to get even more productivity by changing the way buildings are constructed.

It is estimated a contractor can build five times more walls using plasterboard when compared with constructing masonry wall. That reduces the number of workers on site, ensures faster construction, provides a sustainable product with a quality that's good enough for five-star hotels and meets the Buildings Department's requirements. I am sure there are other labour-saving products not only for walls.

Singapore has legislation for "buildable design" and, through its appraisal system, developed by the Building and Construction Authority, measures the potential impact of a building design in its use of labour. The design with the higher "buildability" score will result in more efficient labour usage in construction, therefore higher productivity. Building plans will not be approved if the design score is lower than the stipulated minimum. This will ensure that developers, contractors and architects strive to use less labour in their projects by using alternative products that would even be better than what's being used today.

Let's stop talking about rising wages and importing foreign labour. If we want to be a world-class city, let's start talking about productivity, how we can do it better with what we have.

Steven Koh, Wan Chai




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