Chamber calls for review of labour imports amid manpower shortage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 5:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 4:49pm

An influential business group has joined calls for a review of labour import rules, claiming it would be difficult to fill a manpower shortage while relying only on local workers.

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce said it was time to discuss whether criteria for companies in some industries applying to bring in workers under the Supplementary Labour Scheme should be loosened. It cited construction and care homes for the elderly as sectors facing imminent manpower shortages.

"There also needs to be a review of why about 20 jobs were excluded from the scheme. Do the grounds still stand now?" asked Shirley Yuen, the chamber's chief executive.

Yuen's remarks came the day after representatives from three industries told the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong's labour shortage would be far more severe than official projections suggested. Unions argue that importing workers will depress wages and reduce opportunities for local workers.

Introduced in 1996, the Supplementary Labour Scheme allows employers to hire foreign workers at the level of technician or below if they are unable to recruit suitable workers locally after advertising for four weeks. Waiters and shop assistants are among 26 roles excluded.

Yuen said just 2,500 people were now working under the scheme, while the private sector had a shortfall of 77,900 staff.

"The number of vacancies in construction has jumped by about 70 per cent. Whether the scheme is effective in supplying Hong Kong with the manpower it needs is clear," she said.

"The unions say we should protect local workers by not importing workers. But are we really protecting them when we do not do so? If we don't do so, will we even lose the whole industry?"

Commissioner for Labour Cheuk Wing-hing has said importation should only be allowed if it did not affect local job seekers.

Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said while the chamber appeared to be criticising the government, it was in fact conspiring with it to drum up support for labour imports.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Tang Ka-piu said the government had offered too many associate degree programmes, leaving many graduates with similar qualifications scrambling for limited jobs.