Unionists warned yesterday the unemployment rate would soar if a plan by textile industry employers to import more foreign workers was endorsed. The labour importation plan aimed to rejuvenate the industry, spurring seven to 7.5 per cent growth, creating 32,000 white-collar and blue-collar posts and bringing in an additional revenue of $38 billion before the quota system is abolished in 2005. The plan was part of a 16-point proposal submitted to Tung Chee-hwa yesterday by the Textile and Garment Industry Revitalisation Committee. The committee's suggestion last December to import up to 10,000 foreign workers triggered severe criticism from unions who feared worsening unemployment. Committee chairman Kenneth Fang Hung refused to say how many foreign workers it planned to import. 'We are not talking about numbers but the total workforce,' he said. Another member, Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, said the total workforce in the industry had dropped by 37.8 per cent - from 93,724 workers in 1995 to 58,341 in 1997. Of the 50,000 workers now in the field, only four per cent were aged between 21 and 30. Mr Leung said another 26,423 jobs would disappear through lay-offs and factories moving out of Hong Kong. Mr Fang sidestepped the question whether more imported labour would fuel unemployment. 'We are looking at the SAR's overall situation. We want to create more jobs,' he said. He described a 'one plus one equals three' formula, where one local worker and one foreign worker creates a job in a supporting industry. Unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said the plan had 'gone too far', and would force more local workers to lose their rice bowls. He criticised the 'same work, same pay' suggestion, saying local workers would have no choice but to quit if the salary was fixed at an unacceptably low level. In the proposal unveiled yesterday, a central labour registration system would help employers and employees in job matching. Both employers and employees have to register to the authority, jointly set up by the Labour Department and the Textile Council, on their vacancies and work experience respectively. Workers would have to undertake skill tests. Those who passed would be offered jobs while those who failed would be asked to undergo up to two months' training. Employers could apply for imported labour if they failed to fill the vacancies after the registration process. Factories with fewer than 50 workers could import labour to a proportion of one local worker to one foreign worker. The proportion for factories with more than 50 workers was two local workers to one foreign worker. Both local and imported labour would receive the same pay in terms of the number of clothes they completed. A review would be held after one year or when the number of imported workers reached 8,500. Information Co-ordinator Stephen Lam Sui-lung said the Government would take into account two major principles when considering the plan - local workers would be given priority and employers could only import labour when they were unable to hire local workers. The Federation of Trade Unions said the difficulty the industry faced was not a workforce shortage but the unfairness of the quota system. The World Trade Organisation has suggested abolishing all agreements on export quotas in 2005. The federation questioned whether there was a lack of workers by quoting government figures showing there were 9,100 jobless but only 848 vacancies. Both the Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong strongly opposed the plan.