Hong Kong faces severe labour shortage

Hong Kong is undergoing a construction boom with its mega infrastructure projects, but things could come to a halt, or at least face several bumps in the road, due to the current labour shortage in the sector, according to a Harbour Times report.

Some of the major infrastructures rolling out include MTR links; cross-border bridges; commercial, residential, and recreational development projects; and the proposed third Chek Lap Kok runway.

According to a study by the Construction Industry Council (CIC), there is and will be a shortage of 10,000 to 15,000 skilled workers from a range of areas of expertise, over the next four years or more.

The current greatest need will be be for plasterer terrazzo, granolithic workers, carpenters and refrigeration/AC/ventilation mechanics. Skilled labour needs from different hierarchical levels include sub-contractors, engineers, designers, architects and contractors.

The CIC launched two pilot schemes in 2015 to upgrade the skills of semi-skilled workers to the level of skilled workers, and to train in-service ethnic minority general workers to become semi-skilled workers.

However, many construction trainees, with majority aged under 35, do not take up employment in the industry after training, despite the CIC’s efforts. Hong Kong’s construction industry can be perceived as unattractive due to the project-based employment system for the majority of professions, where employment stability is low.

One solution, albeit controversial, is to import foreign labour to fill the vacant positions where and when a local worker cannot be found. The Labour Department (LD) has a Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) in which any company who wishes to import labour must submit an application for a time-limited contract, subject to the prioritisation of local workers and the provision of equal wage and benefits.

Currently, there is a debate as to whether to relax labour importation regulations or to tighten them. According to a press release from the Legislative Council in late-2015, the government is making efforts to relax regulations and create flexibility under the SLS scheme to meet labour demand and complete projects on time, without construction costs getting out of hand.

The Development Bureau and the CIC will continue to collaborate with the industry to promote the use of mechanised processes, technology and latest innovations to boost construction productivity and relax labour demands. — Construction+ Online