Ready-made solution to labour shortage

Development chief says study is looking into taking building work off-site and into a factory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 6:29am

Standardisation and simplification of construction procedures with more components built off-site could be the answer to the industry's manpower shortage, says Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po.

The government is currently studying the setting up of a "sizeable" factory where the steel bars used to reinforce buildings would be prepared in advance, reducing the need for bar benders on site.

It follows a relaxation in tendering rules for public works last year, allowing more small and medium contractors to bid.

One union welcomed Chan's idea, saying it was a better alternative to importing foreign labour.

Writing on his official blog yesterday, Chan said the government was already reviewing ways to increase efficiency in the construction industry and alleviate the shortage of labour that has hit specific jobs.

It comes as the government's annual spending on construction projects is expected to hit HK$70 billion.

Chan recommended standardising processes by placing pillars at identical intervals, for example, and avoiding complex designs.

Ready-made components would also offer greater on-site safety for workers as more manufacturing processes would take place in properly equipped factory settings. Mass production and the use of automated systems would also help keep costs down.

Chow Luen-kiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union, said he supported a more extensive use of ready-made components and hoped the government would consider a large-scale plant that would not be limited to the production of reinforcement bars.

"It's true that there will perhaps be fewer jobs available at the plant, but this can at least prevent the need to import foreign labour," Chow said, adding that he was not worried about local workers losing their jobs as many were not far from retirement.

He said often young people were deterred from a profession in the construction industry due to the physical demands, despite a surge in daily rates for certain jobs in recent years. Bar benders are now paid HK$1,710 a day.

He added that the factory would offer a more appealing work environment and higher technical requirements, which may attract university graduates.

Census and Statistics Department figures showed there were 82,542 construction site workers across the city as of June, with 1,025 vacancies. A report last year projected manpower demand would rise an average 1.9 per cent a year up to 2018.