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Hong Kong – Business groups want more foreign workers

21 August 2013

One of Hong Kong’s most influential business groups is working on a proposal calling on the government to allow an influx of foreign workers; warning that it is the only way to solve the city’s labour shortage, according to the South China Morning Post.

The General Chamber of Commerce reports that tens of thousands of vacancies across a variety of industries cannot be filled by the local workforce.

Shirley Yuen, chief executive of the chamber, commented: “Right now there is a big discrepancy between jobs vacancies and the labour force. If this situation remains unsettled, it will only result in long working hours and poor service quality.”

According to Yuen, last month there were up to 110,000 unfilled vacancies, dangerously close to the historic high of 122,000 in 1989. Among them, import-export, wholesale and retail traders, and social & personal services industries have consistently suffered shortages of more than 10,000 employees in the past three years.  

The chamber estimated the potential labour force is currently 780,000, encompassing those who could be working but choose not to; including housewives, early retirees, and students. The chamber believes that even if more family friendly conditions; such as flexible working, were introduced as little as 8% of the potential labour force would enter the workplace.

The government last introduced a labour-importation scheme in the 1990s, with a quota of 25,000 per year in all sectors. But there was no quota limit for the construction of the airport at Chek Lap Kok, then under way.

The policy, criticised by the labour unions, was replaced in 1996 with the Supplementary Labour Scheme, under which only businesses with a proven failure to employ workers in a four-week period were qualified to file applications to the Labour Advisory Board for vetting.

Yuen said the scheme had been "unhelpful", as the application procedure was complicated and excluded jobs like drivers, waiters and salespeople.

Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan is adamant that more family-friendly policies should be introduced first, instead of "abruptly importing labour for the sake of lower wages". A Labour Department spokeswoman said employers unable to fill vacancies locally could import labour at technician level or below under the supplementary scheme.

Last year, there were 5,922 applications for the scheme and 1,942 were approved. The construction industry made the largest number of applications with 2,776, but only 284 were approved. Most of the imported workers under the scheme were for the community, social and personal service sector, with 921 applications approved.

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