The Government believes importing foreigners is the answer to demands for labour in the construction industry over the next few years. It also believes sufficient protection has been outlined in the Construction Labour Importation Scheme to ensure local workers get priority in employment. For instance, a special register will be set up to list all those locals who have passed a half-day practical intermediate trade test. Unemployed local workers hoping to join the industry will be encouraged to take the test to confirm their skills and experience. Officials say employers who wish to import foreign labour will have to employ all those listed in the register first. However, no matter how attractive the measures may appear to officials, local workers - especially those who have not had any experience of tests - are likely to interpret the registration system as an attempt to make life difficult for them. What makes them even more suspicious is that a similar test is not applicable to foreign labourers. The double standard and a lack of a credible system to check potential abuses by foreign labourers and their respective employment agencies are bound to generate more labour disputes and undermine the effectiveness of the scheme. Importing foreign construction workers is not a new venture. Foreign labourers, including those from the mainland, worked on Chek Lap Kok airport core projects and the extension of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Past experience has shown that hiring them is not as simple as it appears. Disputes have arisen over such problems as exploitation by employment agencies and agents skimming workers' wages. Some imported labourers know nothing about construction. Given such circumstances, what good does such a scheme do? The Government could say that the abuses were just isolated cases and that the majority of the imported workers were all right. However, without a proper mechanism to check how foreign labour is brought into Hong Kong and what skills the workers possess, similar problems and disputes are bound to recur. Disappointingly, the Government has failed to offer any concrete measures to address these issues. Instead, it claims it would be difficult to test the workers before they arrive and suggests employers should only be responsible for ensuring that imported workers possess the required skills. But past experience has shown that local employers have relied heavily on employment agencies which have turned out to be the key source of abuse. Employers were either incapable of checking the agencies or did not bother to do so because they were only looking for cheap labourers. Officials also seem to have no faith that with Hong Kong becoming part of China, greater co-operation on the labour front between the local and mainland authorities should be possible. Such an attitude is not going to help the construction sector because failure to address these potential abuses is a recipe for labour disputes, and disruption and delay to construction. To improve the scheme, thought should be given to involving the Hong Kong authorities more directly in screening applications of mainland workers and checking their credentials. Importing foreign labour is never a popular practice. However, with the massive construction work planned for the next few years, an importation scheme, or probably a large-scale labour importation exercise, seems inevitable. Therefore it is essential that local officials take every step to get the scheme right - the only way to minimise the possibility of large-scale labour disputes.