Business and labour groups disagree over importing construction workers
Business and labour interests are set for a face-off over importing foreign workers, which one lawmaker said the government was considering to fill an estimated shortage of 5,000 people in the construction industry.
A pro-business lawmaker, who refused to be named, said the government and unions were well aware of the shortage and officials were studying the possibility of importing labour.
A spokeswoman for the Labour and Welfare Bureau said it had "no such plan" to import foreign labour for the industry.
But the lawmaker said the idea was under study: "We are short of at least 5,000 workers. We do not want to rob local workers of their jobs, but let's face the fact and find a solution together."
The shortage was highlighted in yesterday's Legislative Council debate on the motion of thanks for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address, as a string of business-affiliated lawmakers piled on pressure for importing foreign labour.
Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Abraham Razack, who represents real estate and construction, said the shortage was delaying progress on infrastructure projects and increasing building costs. "The government should take a courageous political step and import foreign labour," he said.
Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun said the supply of skilled construction workers was 15 per cent short of the demand, representing a lack of 8,000 to 9,000 workers.
"The government has pledged to meet the housing target, but will the cheque bounce if we do not have sufficient workers?" he asked.
But unionist lawmaker Tang Ka-piu said the demand for construction workers would not peak for three years and the government should take the opportunity to train unskilled workers for skilled jobs. "The target for public housing will stay the same for the next few years. The business sector is exaggerating the demand," he said.
Chow Luen-kiu, chairman of the Construction Industry Employees General Union, also opposes the proposal.
He said the city had about 110,000 skilled workers and 170,000 unskilled workers at present - and the shortage was only in skilled workers.
"If half of the unskilled workers are trained to become skilled workers such as bar-benders, there will be no such thing as a shortage of workers," he said.