Unionists voice support for government's labour import policy

Lawmakers voice support for adminstration's stand to keep existing policy on overseas hiring in order to protect job opportunities for locals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:26am

Unionists yesterday backed the government's stance that bringing non-local labour into the city needs to be carried out through an existing scheme.

They warned that any attempt to improve the scheme had to be made carefully.

The labour minister gave assurances that any new ideas would be developed within the existing Supplementary Labour Scheme in order to protect locals.

The unionists were making their views known on the first day of the public consultation on population policy.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Tang Ka-piu said he hoped that if the government "improved" the scheme, it would not make it easier to import non-local workers.

Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said: "If we abandon the scheme and allow homes for the elderly to import 5,000 elderly-care workers, that would mean 5,000 fewer jobs for locals."

Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said the scheme should cover more types of work, such as waiters. Many restaurants were offering waiters HK$60 an hour, but they still struggled to hire people, he said.

The scheme, which was launched in 1996 to help bosses hire from abroad when there was a lack of suitable local candidates, requires employers to show that they were unable to fill the posts after four weeks of open recruitment in the domestic market.

By the end of last year, 2,415 people, mostly elderly-care workers and farm labourers, were working in Hong Kong under the scheme.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who heads the population policy steering committee, said she was aware of a labour shortage in construction and retail.

Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the city should explore new ideas to bring in more non-local workers, but those ideas should be developed within the existing framework to ensure Hongkongers were not left out in the cold.

The private sector had 77,900 vacancies as of June, the committee's consultation documents show. The shortage was particularly acute in health, recreation and social services. Openings at building sites were rising quickly.

Imported workers in Hong Kong accounted for only 0.1 per cent of the total labour force, compared with 26 per cent in Macau and 28 per cent in Singapore, Lam said.

A source familiar with the matter said the Labour and Welfare Bureau's manpower projection to 2018 was approximate and more information was needed.

Lam said the city should be marketed as "a place of opportunity for global talent", and Hongkongers studying abroad should be encouraged to come back to work.