Import certain foreign workers, construction union says

Specialists in tunnel construction and steel welding can help ease shortage, it says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 3:52am

The city can import foreign labour for certain skills in the building industry that are not served by enough local experts, a construction union says.

The remark comes after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's suggestion early this year to bring in construction workers from overseas, an idea that unionist lawmakers opposed at the time.

Industry insiders yesterday cited tunnel workers and welders of structural steel as examples of specialists who were needed.

"We have very few tunnel workers," said Chow Luen-kiu, chairman of the Construction Industry Employees General Union.

"There is no institute that teaches the building of tunnels, nor can we train such workers, but there are so many tunnels in Hong Kong."

The city had just four registered tunnel workers as at the end of last year, compared with the more than 300,000 registered workers of various trades in the sector, Construction Industry Council data showed.

Chow said the Labour Department's supplementary labour scheme should monitor the import of foreign workers, who should receive the same wages and conditions as locals. Gammon Construction also said the industry was facing a mismatch of skills.

"More construction projects nowadays involve the use of structural steel … while we may no longer need some others who are specialised in another skill," Gammon human resources director Edmond Lai Wing-kok said.

Council figures showed the city had about 200 registered welders of structural steel last year.

In January, Leung said the government would have to resort to foreign labour if the construction workforce proved too small to meet growing demand, resulting in delays and higher costs in some infrastructure projects.

Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan expressed concern that the move would reduce wages for locals, while fellow unionist Wong Kwok-hing urged the government to train more locals.

The Construction Association estimated from a survey in May that the industry was short of about 10,000 workers.