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Hong Kong economy

HK$2,600 a day: Hong Kong construction workers get pay rise, but say they don’t have enough work

Union members warn lawmakers against stalling projects for public works, saying that is restricting their hours

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 3:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 10:03am

The salaries of Hong Kong’s construction workers will rise for the ninth year in a row, with an increase of 7.8 per cent to kick in next month, according to new figures.

But union members were still unsatisfied, with many complaining of not getting regular work due to delays on new projects – which they blame on filibustering in the Legislative Council.

The Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union asked 7,568 people in the industry about their pay, and their upcoming raise.

The results showed that carpenters, painters and bar benders – who lay steel frame foundations – will benefit the most, with a pay rise of more than 10 per cent.

Workers who mix, lay and spread concrete will see their salary reach a new high of HK$2,600 a day, or more than HK$50,000 for a month, if they work 20 days.

The surge in construction wages was faster than the city’s overall salary increase in 2017, which was 3.9 per cent according to a separate survey by employment portal jobsDB.

The builders’ pay rises will come into effect in November, as is usually the case in the local construction industry.

For about a decade, construction has been one of the best-performing sectors in Hong Kong, riding huge demand from big infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

Powered by that boom, builders’ salaries have increased every year from 2008, doubling since that year and putting their pay on par with professionals such as accountants, financial analysts, junior lawyers.

But that boom eased into 2017, as there were not enough new projects approved by Legco, and others came to an end.

More young people joining construction sector, but tough to retain talent, lawmaker says

“The problem of not having enough work has become more serious this year,” Chow Luen-kiu, chairman of the union, said.

Chow said many workers, such as bar benders and concreters, only worked 13 to 15 days a month this year – a sharp decline from 20 to 22 days a month last year. This meant their monthly income dropped by more than 20 per cent, despite the rise in daily wages, he said.

Chow blamed the city’s political tensions and filibustering that holds up new projects for public works at Legco. He said the delays had threatened the livelihoods of the city’s 440,000 builders, and their families’ income.

“Pan-democrats, cut it out. Don’t meddle with our business,” Chow said.

Opposition lawmakers have taken issue with many big building projects for reasons such as a lack of public consultation, high costs and low efficiency.

Work on the Guangzhou rail line has also been held up by constitutional wrangles emanating from the government’s plan to let mainland officials enforce mainland laws at the terminal.

The Hong Kong Construction Alliance, a trade association, estimated earlier that the government needed to roll out at least HK$70 billion worth of new public projects every year to keep the industry sustainable and maintain the city’s competitiveness.

However, by July, Legco had approved only seven new public projects, worth HK$4.8 billion, accounting for about 5 per cent of the overall HK$86 billion expected to be approved for projects by the end of the year. The alliance said 30 projects were still pending approval.

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