About 200 contract workers from the Buildings Department took to the streets yesterday to protest against plans not to renew their contracts because the project for which they were hired - the removal of illegal building works - was almost completed. The protesters, who chanted slogans and marched from the Legislative Council to the Central Government Offices, said about 700 contract staff would be left unemployed when their contracts expire this year. 'We believe the department will not have enough manpower if the contract staff go,' said protest organiser Kong Yuk-yin of the Buildings Department Non-Civil Service Contract Staff Liaison Group. Some of the contract workers had joined the department as early as 2001 when the government launched a campaign to demolish unauthorised structures across the city, she said. The workers' monthly salaries ranged from about HK$5,000 to HK$30,000. Kong said that according to government figures there were about 800,000 illegal building works in 1999, but so far only about 380,000 of the more dangerous structures had been removed. 'Even though the rest are less risky and dangerous, they may still be a threat to the public ... We hope the government will hire us to continue the removal work,' she said, adding that the group might stage industrial action if the department failed to address the issue. Federation of Trade Unions' legislators Ip Wai-ming and Pan Pey-chyou were among the protesters. 'The government is going to launch the mandatory building inspection scheme and the registration of minor works contractors - the Buildings Department will need extra staff to work on these. So why does the government force contract staff to leave and create unemployment?' Pan asked. The Buildings Department said that the project to demolish unauthorised structures was almost completed and that it was planning to gradually cut the number of contract staff. About 500 workers would be affected, a government spokesman said, adding that the department would provide appropriate employment support. Meanwhile two unions - the Neighbourhood and Workers' Service Centre and Frontline Welfare Employees Union - urged the government to offer permanent employment to temporary programme workers. The government created the so-called programme workers' scheme in 2007 to give young people job experience by giving them temporary posts within welfare organisations. The unions' appeal came after a poll found 82 per cent of the 222 programme workers interviewed said they were troubled because they could not be promoted unless they studied a recognised course in social work.