The city's largest employers' group has called for a review of the labour importation scheme, after a survey of 160 companies found almost half of them with vacancy rates of between 6 and 15 per cent.
The Employers' Federation polled 160 firms across the city in September and October. The companies surveyed employ a total of more than 100,000 staff and are from 11 industries.
The survey found that 73 of the firms had vacancies of up to 5 per cent of its workforce. Another 49 had vacancies of 6 to 10 per cent, and 20 had vacancies of 11 to 15 per cent.
"Two companies said they needed to fill vacancies of more than 26 per cent," the federation's chief executive, Louis Pong Wai-yan, added. He said one of these companies was from the retail sector while the other was from the estate management and construction sector.
"Some companies couldn't even fill their vacancies after a year of trying to recruit people," he said.
Vacancies for customer service positions appear to be some of the most difficult to fill. Eleven of 92 firms with such vacancies said they took five to six months to fill these positions.
"It is really too long if a company can't fill its vacancies after six months. That will effect business operations," Pong said.
He said it was high time the government considered whether approval for Supplementary Labour Scheme applications were taking too long, as some employers had complained of the wait taking up to a year.
The government should also consider changing the scheme's criteria to cover sectors such as retail, he added.
Introduced in 1996, the scheme allows employers to hire foreign workers at technician level or below if they cannot recruit suitable workers locally after advertising for four weeks. Waiters and shop assistants are among 26 roles excluded.
Labour sector lawmaker Tang Ka-piu cast doubt over the survey's credibility, saying the companies might have exaggerated their vacancies to exert pressure on the government to loosen the labour import rules.
Meanwhile, the federation has recently suggested to its 550 members that they should offer a pay rise of 4 per cent next year.
The Census and Statistics Department announced yesterday that unemployment stood at 3.3 per cent between September and November.