Chief secretary promises efforts on manpower needs

Consultation on government population policy faces complaints from some sectors about crippling shortages of skilled workers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 5:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 5:30am

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday deflected criticism of a population policy consultation paper, saying the government would do its best to assess the manpower needs of the local economy.

The city's second-highest official said she believed training and educational institutes were the key to solving staff shortages.

Training local talent "is our top priority", Lam said. "We have put training of local talent before admission of overseas talent" in the paper.

Meanwhile, a member of the government's Steering Committee on Population Policy defended a proposal to import more foreign labour. Professor Francis Lui Ting-ming, of the University of Science and Technology, said bringing in overseas workers could salvage struggling industries, which would in turn boost the local job market.

The four-month consultation on population policy began on Thursday.

It comes at a time when the city is facing a shortage of certain skilled workers, such as in the food and beverage industry.

J. R. Robertson of El Grande Concepts, which runs the likes of Grappa's Cellar and Cochrane's in Central and the Hong Kong Brewhouse in Lan Kwai Fong, said it was impossible to get staff.

"There's a chronic shortage of English-speaking staff. The people just don't exist," Robertson said. "We're constantly looking for more people, and the workforce is just not there."

Hong Kong Chinese do not want to work in these establishments below management level as there is no real hope of promotion, unlike working in a hotel.

"Even if their English is good there's no way Hong Kong Chinese want to work for us. And even with the English-speaking workforce we have, every bar and restaurant is trying to poach the others' staff," he said.

In Kennedy Town and Western alone, seven or eight new bars are in the process of opening ahead of the new West Island Line MTR extension to Kennedy Town. If they are counting on tourists to fill their tables, they could be in trouble.

Latest Tourism Board figures show that the number of visitors to the city from the Americas is down by 6.7 per cent so far this year compared with 2012, while visitors from Australia and New Zealand declined 5 per cent. While there have been more visitors from the mainland this year, few are likely to have spent time in bars targeting expatriates.

The city's private clubs are short of staff too.

"Private clubs are also struggling to attract staff because they don't use a tipping system, unlike the public sector," said Noel Burns, co-owner of Castro's bar in Tsim Sha Tsui. "Tips for a waiter could be an extra HK$4,000 a month. The clubs may pay out a gratuity at the end of the year, but that's no good if the employee needs the extra money at the end of each month."