Foreign labour scheme 'has too much red tape'
Official programme for importing workers can take a year for approval, employers say
Industry representatives are calling for the labour importation scheme to be reformed or replaced, claiming that the application process is too complex, and that it can take more than a year for approval.
They say applicants are left to struggle with manpower shortages as they wait for application results.
"It takes so long the bosses don't know what they can do while waiting for the result," said Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades.
The Supplementary Labour Scheme was introduced in 1996 in order to help employers hire from abroad when they could not find suitable candidates for positions at the level of technician or below.
Under the scheme, employers must show that they cannot fill the posts after recruiting openly for four weeks in the domestic market.
The imported workers must be paid at least the median monthly wages of local workers in comparable positions.
The Labour Advisory Board, which has six employer representatives and six representing workers, discusses all applications under the scheme before submitting them to the government for approval.
"The government should set up a committee that is solely responsible for processing the applications. It takes too long at the moment," Wong said.
The Labour Advisory Board also advises the government on other labour issues, on top of meeting to process importation applications.
Twenty-six job categories are excluded from the scheme, including waiters, junior cooks and shop assistants.
Wong said the scheme should be relaxed so that restaurant bosses could import waiters and junior cooks.
"The Chinese Cuisine Training Institute cannot train enough cooks to tackle the shortage," he said.
"The government has always said that stay-at-home mothers and the elderly should be encouraged to rejoin the workforce, but the truth is they are just unwilling to do so."
Thomas Ho On-sing, president of the Hong Kong Construction Association, said bosses sometimes had to wait 17 months for a decision, causing delays in some projects.
Ho, who is an employer representative on the board, said that the waiting time could be shortened to six months if applications were tabled with the board faster, and if its members met more often.
He also urged companies to hire workers and train them on the job, rather than wait and take on only workers who were fully trained.
Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong chairman Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk said rules such as the four-week open recruitment period could be eased to speed up the process.
"Let's say if 10 workers suddenly quit and I need to spend a year waiting for the result of the scheme, how is that going to work?" he said.
By the end of last year, 2,415 people, mostly elderly care workers and farm labourers, were working in Hong Kong under the scheme.