• Tue
  • Sep 16, 2014
  • Updated: 1:26pm
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong should employ commuter workers from Pearl River Delta, says Paul Cheung

Singapore's success in using Malaysian workers could be replicated with mainland residents, says Lion City's former population chief

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 9:04am


  • Yes: 34%
  • No: 66%
24 Feb 2014
  • Yes
  • No
Total number of votes recorded: 403

Hong Kong should open its doors to workers from the Pearl River Delta who could commute here and solve the twin problems of a shrinking workforce and growing housing shortage over the next 30 years, says the architect of Singapore's population policy.

The suggestion by Paul Cheung, director of population planning in Singapore from 1986 to 1996, borrows from the city state's experience in supplementing its labour force with around 150,000 workers who commute daily from neighbouring Malaysia.

The proposal is feasible as the transport network between cities in the delta region will be much improved in 30 years' time.

"Importing labour is a very outdated concept, especially for Hong Kong. It should look at it as talent flow across the Pearl River Delta region," Cheung told the South China Morning Post.

"The core problem for Hong Kong is urban pressure. If the city adopts the flow concept, the loading on Hong Kong will be less," he said.

Cheung's recommendation came as the government's public consultation on formulating a population policy, which started in September, ended yesterday.

The government had suggested importing more overseas workers to replenish the labour force, which is expected to shrink from 2018.

Cheung engineered a baby boom in the 1980s by creating extra childcare places that allowed couples to have more children. As a result the fertility rate in Singapore increased from 1.43 in 1986 to 1.96 in 1988 - close to the replacement level of two.

Cheung, who worked in New York from 2004 to 2012 as director of the United Nations Statistics Division, said some workers in Manhattan commuted from the neighbouring state of Connecticut. US Census Bureau statistics show the daytime population of Manhattan is about 3 million, almost double the nighttime number of more than 1.5 million.

"There's no travel restriction between New York and Connecticut. People in Connecticut now can freely move to New York and work there and move back in the evening. The same can be true for Zhuhai and Shenzhen down the road," he said.

Noting the negative sentiment of some Hongkongers towards mainlanders, Cheung said the government could consider the Fair Consideration Framework in Singapore. This ensures that jobs paying more than HK$20,000 a month are advertised for locals and there is tightened scrutiny of companies that have a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans.

"The reality is that there are many qualified and talented Chinese for Hong Kong to pick and choose. The trick is how to develop a system to attract and retain them, without alienating the local population," Cheung said.

But he warned Hong Kong to take heed of a recent proposal by the Singaporean government.

"Don't open the gate too fast and too wide - be mindful of how locals react to foreign talent."

Singapore's recent plan to increase foreigners to nearly half of its population by 2030 prompted rare protests from citizens. The influx of foreign workers, making up more than a third of employees in Singapore and primarily low-skilled, also led to social conflict. A riot involving 400 foreign workers broke out in the city's Little India district in December.

Cheung said Hong Kong should also consider developing "third-age" education for the retired and significantly increasing the number of subsidised childcare centres.

"I don't get a good sense of what Hong Kong will be like 30 years down the road. There is no vision for the urban environment of Hong Kong, the liveability … as a home," he said after reading the consultation report. "It focuses only on … 'human capital' but ignores … other key issues, like pensions and elderly housing."


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this will only bring chaos to HK society...and will attract more illegal worker as well...
why can the HK government introduce more job opportunity to those people simply relying on the CSSA scheme...since, majority of the workforce shortages comes from the low end services or industry...
I always feel that Hong Kong is not really having a problem of shortage of workers/talents. Yes, we have a declining working population and we have a hard time in finding people to do the low-end job, I think it's ample time for business-owners to re-think their business model. I recall seeing a TV program which show how a dish-washing business thrive with the use of machineries. It's quite strange to see that we are in shortage of workers when we are having a huge pool of university graduates getting into business world every year and we have so many people getting social allowance without going to work. Also yes, we have a shortage of construction people, but this is all the government fault on pushing all the mega-infrastructure projects together at one time, causing shortage in both people and resources. I still vividly remember in the days of doom in 1999-2003 there are so many construction project halted and so many construction workers unemployed. The current government seems push too hard to pursue projects which avail merging Hong Kong with China, which virtually kills Hong Kong's edge as a distinct city. As a side issue, how would a Chinese like to go to a Japanese ramen restaurants to eat the Chinese-favored japanese ramen with wonton....when they can have wonton noodles at home everyday? Similarly, without offence to the Chinese, if Hong Kong is so Chinese-customized, with imported Chinese workers serving Chinese customers with Chinese-made products?
Yes and you can graduate from University and then start earning a cr@ppy salary, which will never lead to being able to buy your own decent size home and raise a family, or you could just leave and go somewhere else that offers a MUCH higher living standard. One the educated emigrate - guess what? Yes, we have a labour shortage, so the urge to import unskilled labor from the mainland looks attractive?
Paul, talented workers in south china is not necessarily cheaper, in fact quite expensive. Many mainland graduates studied in hk is not staying either as they see more opportunities back home. 70% of hk universities graduate students are from china! but very low percentage are staying, and even staying will be a short stay. This is quite diff from singapore and Malaysia situation.
we are tallking about construction workers here mainly, who are needed in great numbers to satisfy the present housing shortage.
for the talented workers, HK has always paid higher for them, mainlander or not. The package includes accomodation, travel and child education.
as for concerns about how they might clog up the border points, this is a better option than having to house them in already cramped conditions here.
we cannot have everything........
Dai Muff
They are not staying now because they cannot. Not because they do not want to. I have seen a LOT of mainland job recruits just out of university who want to stay and want us to get them a work permit. But we cannot, as long as a Hong Konger can do the job. Many I have seen are desperate not to go back.
The boundary fences have to eventually come down . Might as well do it now and get it all over!
I suggest Mr. Cheung takes his Singapore passport - no special lane please - gets into the train in KT and goes for a quick coffee in the Lo Wu Shang - please do walk through the underground train station - and then come back and think your idea over once more!
The cross border workers are issued with a special pass by S'pore, thus speeding their entry and exit.
Here, they could come by buses through the other two less busy checkpoints.
This is a terrible idea




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