A catering workers' union has disputed claims the city is experiencing a labour shortage, insisting there is no need to import more foreign workers.
Catering bosses say they have found it difficult in recent times to find dishwashers, even with an average salary higher than the minimum wage of HK$30 per hour.
Kwok Wang-hing, chairman of the Eating Establishment Employees General Union, said the situation has been created by mismanagement.
"Some restaurants have cut dishwasher numbers, and so the extra workload is shared among the rest of the workers," Kwok said. "The remaining workers may get a pay rise of 25 per cent, but their workloads have in fact doubled."
He cited the case of a dishwasher working in a restaurant in Tai Koo who was reportedly paid HK$18,000 a month. "But she worked from 7am to 11pm and without any days off. Of course she had to quit at last as she could not stand the tough job."
Ip Wai-ming, of the Federation of Trade Unions, added: "Restaurant owners always reiterate there are vacancies in the industry, but the figures are actually an illusion. Are they really sincere about hiring workers?"
The catering workers' union blamed unfavourable working conditions for discouraging available workers from applying for vacancies.
Separately, the union also called on the government to introduce an apprenticeship programme for the catering industry to encourage young people who it says are reluctant to join the sector - particularly to learn traditional Chinese cuisine.
Tax incentives or subsidies could be offered to restaurants who hire such apprentices, Ip suggested.