Increase training and pay for Hong Kong aviation technicians or face serious labour shortage, unions warn
Aviation academy criticised for not providing relevant courses and addressing future labour needs for third runway
Aviation unionists in the city warned on Tuesday that the Hong Kong International Aviation Academy is failing to tackle a looming shortage of airport technicians with the third runway due for completion in 2024.
They pointed to a “mismatch” between skill needs and training, saying that the academy offered no courses for technicians despite the growing demand for such jobs.
A total of 73,000 people currently work at the airport. Once the HK$141 billion third runway is operational, an additional 50,000 staff will be required by 2030.
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Citing a 2015 labour report by the Airport Authority, unions said 47 per cent of all job vacancies at the time were for technicians, followed by 40 per cent for manual workers, 10 per cent for professionals and 3 per cent for managers.
“We have received complaints from airport staff that they are working round the clock now because there is a shortage of manpower. And the third runway has not even been completed yet,” Cheung Shu-wang, chairman of the Staffs and Workers Union of Hong Kong Civil Airlines, said.
“They are worried that they will be working even longer once the runway is built.”
He criticised the aviation academy, established by the authority, for not offering training courses for technicians in fields such as aircraft maintenance. Most of the courses involved management skills.
Li Wing-foo, chairman of the Hong Kong Airport Ramp Services Employees Union, said: “The courses that the aviation academy is offering will not help with operational efficiency.”
Unionists also said young people were not willing to become technicians because of the low pay.
A trainee aircraft maintenance technician earns about HK$11,000 a month, and requires four years of training to become a fully fledged professional, during which time his or her salary may rise only slightly to HK$15,000.
The unions called for better pay for technicians to encourage more people to join the industry and to prevent a severe shortage of such jobs by 2024.
They urged the MTR and bus companies to offer discounts to those who work at the airport, as transport costs could take up 10 to 15 per cent of salaries. The academy should also offer technician courses, they said.
The authority said in a statement on Tuesday that the academy had one-month courses as well as 12-month paid practical training on offer, partnering with different aviation companies that provided ground services, airport security, aircraft engineering and other skills.
It said recruitment drives had been launched over the past few years, with one event in June offering 4,000 airport jobs, and it had been meeting the Transport Department and public transport operators to discuss transport discounts for airport staff,
Speaking to the Post last month on staff salaries and retention, Airport Authority deputy director Vivian Cheung expressed doubt that her organisation could “solve the problem”.
On low salaries, she said the airport would be replacing some low-wage labour-intensive jobs with automation.
She said this could potentially create demand for higher-skilled jobs with better pay.
“We are working on smart airports and automation so we can try to upgrade some of the jobs so they are less labour-intensive,” said Cheung, who also heads the aviation academy.
The airport is currently expanding its departure terminal. New installations include automated luggage and check-in facilities, as well as replacing workers at check-in counters with machines.
Cheung said she started as an entry-level worker and rose through the ranks to her current position over 25 years. She cited herself as an example of moving up the career ladder towards a higher salary.
The airport is also looking into providing people who fail to land their dream job alternative roles that can be just as promising.
“There will be instances where people realise they cannot be a pilot but they can be a mechanic. If they can’t be a mechanic, they can be a controller or a plane dispatcher. And they can work their way up – and we do see such cases,” Cheung said.