Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has dropped what trade union leaders see as the strongest hint yet that controls on imported overseas labour may be relaxed in a bid to ease the city’s worker shortage.
Leung took to his blog yesterday to call on citizens to be aware of the shortage as unemployment fell.
Leung wrote that the government would “continue to develop the city’s economy, including industries that need new blood from the grass-roots labour force, to provide more employment opportunities”.
However, he said it was impossible for the city’s workforce to keep growing. “Even though the government has been providing incentives for people to help themselves through employment, we have to notice that it is unlikely for the city to enlarge its labour force as we did in the past,” he wrote.
He supported his argument with unemployment data released yesterday – which showed a rate of 3.2 per cent for the three months from October to December last year, down 0.1 per cent on the three-month period that ended in November. The city’s workforce now numbers 3,760,400, a record high.
“The shortage of labour and land will be the two major factors hindering economic development. To keep the growth ... we have to take notice of the problem,” Leung wrote.
Separately, commenting on the unemployment figures, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said his department had recorded 1.2 million private sector vacancies last year – an all-time high and up 6.3 per cent on 2012.
Lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said Leung’s post implied that the government wanted to raise the issue of importing overseas labour again.
“The government has been mumbling about this many times,” said Wong. “It just didn’t dare to say it out loud.”
Wong accepted that some sectors such as construction did lack manpower, which could slow down the speed of housing construction and many infrastructure projects. But he said in many other sectors, such as catering and care for the elderly, employers wanted to import foreign workers to cut costs.
“We have a system to introduce overseas labour, which is enough for the labour shortage in some sectors,” said Wong. “The business sector just wants to get around the system and to import labour [without limits] and without any legislation. This is impossible for us to accept.”
Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said the prediction that Hong Kong could see 100 million visitors in the next decade meant that the city would need to rely on outside help to thrive.
He denied that employers wanted to suppress salaries and said the city needed more labour to cater for its economic growth.