Gurkhas recruited to work on airport

GURKHA soldiers have been employed to work on the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, bypassing the Government's labour importation scheme, a senior Gurkha officer says.

The deputy commander of 48th Gurkha Infantry Brigade, Colonel Roger Willsher, said yesterday that contractors had applied direct to the officer in charge of Gurkhas' welfare for soldiers skilled in civil engineering and telecommunications.

The soldiers recruited were all about to retire and return to Nepal, a necessary step in terminating their contracts with the Ministry of Defence, before returning to work in Hongkong.

Colonel Willsher was not aware of employers going through the Government's labour importation scheme.

But last night a spokesman for the Education and Manpower Branch denied any policy change to allow employment of Gurkhas outside the labour scheme.

Last year the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mr John Chan Cho-chak, invited the Commander of the British Forces, Major-General John Foley, to discuss the possibility of allowing Gurkhas to work in the territory after they had retired from the army.

But Mr Chan told General Foley that Gurkhas should be employed through the same procedure as other imported workers, under the labour importation scheme depending on their individual skills.

An estimated 5,000 Gurkhas are expected to be made redundant this year under the British Government's defence review.

About 500 Nepalese, many of them former Gurkha soldiers, have been employed under the labour importation scheme to work as mechanics, security guards, waiters and other posts in the territory.

Colonel Willsher was speaking after officiating at the closing of a three-day camp by more than 500 boy and girl Scouts at Gallipoli Lines barracks at Fanling.