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An acute labour shortage in certain sectors is hurting Hong Kong’s competitiveness and undermining its economic growth, according to the South China Morning Post. There are currently more than 14,000 vacancies in the food and beverage sector, 17,300 in social and personal services sector, and over 9,400 in the retail sector.
The number of job vacancies increased nearly +15% each year since 2002. In the first quarter of 2013, there were 80,170 openings in the private sector alone. Competition for jobs shrank from 15 people for each position 10 years ago, to fewer than two today.
Hong Kong’s population has grown by over 392,000 in the past decade. During that time the labour force has grown by 311,000. There are currently estimated to be more than 436,000 jobs in Hong Kong and the situation is set to worsen. The work force in Hong Kong is expected to shrink over coming decades.
The Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) was created to alleviate this issue, but has proven cumbersome, slow and unable to meet the legitimate needs of employers. SLS came into operation on 1 February 1996. It is a scheme which allows employers with genuine difficulties in finding suitable staff locally to import workers at technician level or below. However, to ensure the priority of local workers in employment, and to safeguard their salaries and benefits, employers must accord priority to fill available vacancies with local workers, and take active efforts to train local workers.
In 2012, only 84 people were approved under SLS to enter Hong Kong for the purpose of working in the wholesale, retail, restaurant, and accommodations sectors. Discussions are already underway, led by CY Leung, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, to address the growing problem.