Chief executive’s policy address 2017

‘Matter of time’ before Hong Kong imports carers for elderly, labour minister says

Labour minister says migrants needed to tackle shortage in sector, despite pay rises for workers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 9:13am

It is only a matter of time before Hong Kong imports workers to tackle its shortage of carers for the elderly, even if the current crunch can be eased by a pay rise announced in Wednesday’s policy address, according to the labour and welfare minister.

Dr Law Chi-kwong on Thursday gave the strongest indication yet that the government was seriously looking into the controversial idea, a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged in her policy blueprint to explore the possibility of bringing in non-locals for the subsidised elderly nursing care sector.

Such a plan would be controversial in the city because of strong opposition from unions who fear local jobseekers will be sidelined.

The government announced it would raise the basic monthly salaries of some 14,000 nurses at subsidised care homes from around HK$13,000 to HK$16,000, in a bid to retain and attract more workers.

Law revealed the labour shortage for subsidised nursing homes and home care providers had soared from about 11 per cent to 18 per cent.

“That means eight people are doing the work that should be done by 10 people,” he said, describing the situation as “fairly serious”.

He had no concrete timetable for labour importation, but Law said the Labour Advisory Board would have to discuss the issue, if care centres were still unable to recruit after the pay rise, which will take effect at the start of the next financial year on April 1.

He warned the city would have to revisit the contentious idea anyway in future, even if the pay rise helped relieve the problem in the short term.

The demand for special care services will see a threefold, or fourfold, increase in future
Labour minister Dr Law Chi-kwong

“The demand for special care services will see a threefold, or fourfold, increase in future,” he said. “[Importing labour] is only a matter of time.”

By 2041, it is estimated that about one in three Hongkongers will be aged 65 or above.

For her part, the chief executive was out and about on Thursday promoting her policy address, attending a radio show and a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council.

She had to fend off accusations that her government was colluding with private developers regarding her Starter Homes scheme, which aims to provide 1,000 affordable homes to middle-income Hongkongers on Anderson Road in Kwun Tong.

The site is part of government land that will be sold to private developers next year. The successful bidder will have to reserve a portion of the plot for the scheme, and set affordable prices.

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Lam also made it clear she had no intention of easing or strengthening measures to cool the city’s red-hot property market.

During the Legco session, opposition legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung questioned whether Lam’s bold policy pledge to set a zero waiting time target for community and home care services for the elderly was merely a slogan, given the inadequacies on the ground.

Lam said the government would consider giving out more care vouchers, which would allow users to pick the community and home care services that best suit their needs.

The welfare minister admitted it was hard to give a time frame for Lam’s challenging target, but insisted it was a goal that the government must reach.

“If we cannot achieve this target, the result would be … an overwhelming demand for residential care,” Law said, adding that the administration would try everything to boost resources and manpower, as well as improving working conditions.

Additional reporting by Phila Siu