GOVERNOR Chris Patten and his advisers have postponed replacing the new labour importation scheme with a compromise package until a territory-wide referendum on the deal by more than 500 unions is completed in nine days' time. The Executive Council has been briefed by Education and Manpower Branch officials on the package and agreed it was a 'reasonable' compromise between workers' and business interest, an informed source said. He said the package stuck to two major principles: giving locals priority in jobs and allowing employers to import foreign workers if there were genuine needs. Some people might still not be happy with it, he said, but stressed it offered enough to both sides to resolve the issue amicably.The source refused to discuss the outcome had unionists rejected the deal and said it was 'nonsense' to suggest the Government would have returned to the 25,000-quota General Scheme. Commissioner for Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan maintained it was a good deal for the unions. 'It is a reasonable and good proposal. We are looking forward to the unionists' response,' he said. Mr Ip said he would seek support from employers' representatives on the proposal. But it was too early to predict this without knowledge of the decision by unions. Union leaders decided on Monday night to poll all members in the territory on the deal. Copies of questionnaires outlining the background and content of negotiations between unionist legislators and government officials over the past few weeks were sent to more than 500 unions yesterday. They were asked to give an answer for, against or no opinion by December 28. A labour representative in the Legislative Council, Lee Kai-ming, said he expected at least one-fifth of them would answer, the responding rate in the September Legco election. He expected opposition would most likely come from the most worried sectors, such as workers in the construction industry. 'But a very clear message was conveyed to us in the summit on Monday night that we could win members' understanding if we allowed them more time to consider,' he said. Liberal Party legislator Henry Tang Ying-yen, however, warned that the authority of the executive-led Government would be damaged if it amended the Supplementary Labour Scheme within a short period of time. 'The Government promised two months ago the scheme would have 5,000 places. But it now bows to the pressure by the unionists who said they would move a private member's bill,' he said. 'I will be surprised if the unionists accept the [compromise] proposal as they are against labour importation, but I welcome them to do so.'