Relax labour laws to help city

September 12, 201412:25 pm357 views
Relax labour laws to help city
Relaxing labour importation laws will benefit Hong Kong

The latest official study of Hong Kong’s future manpower needs estimates a net shortage of 118,000 by 2022, partly because of a mismatch between job skills required and education levels. Manpower projections have proved wide of the mark in the past.

Given dependence on assumptions that may become outdated, and that unions see it as a pretext for importing labour, many will treat the study by the Labour and Welfare Bureau with caution.

A single fact can focus more attention on the subject. We have one with the news that the number of skilled construction workers leaving Hong Kong for higher wages in Macau has more than tripled in the past two years, from 1,305 in July 2012 to 4,685 at the end of July this year. And that does not count those who go to work in Macau as unregistered daily commuters.

To be sure, the figure is a drop in the bucket of the 200,000-odd qualified workers in this city’s building industry, but it is expected to grow as construction firms, including many here, compete for lucrative contracts on casino projects, exacerbating a severe labour shortage in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong developers and contractors have seized on it to renew calls to relax rules on importing labour, arguing that shortages were helping raise construction costs and property prices. A recent international survey that found Hong Kong’s construction costs had become the world’s highest.

A government committee on population policy is exploring ways to deal with the shrinking workforce generally, and not just in construction, including relaxing or streamlining labour importation.

Suggestions of new ways to bring in outside workers are welcome and should be fully debated. One is for Pearl River Delta workers to commute daily across the border to Hong Kong, similar to Singapore’s use of a cross-border Malaysian labour pool.

So long as the interests of local workers are given due weight and the issue is handled sensitively, a relaxation of labour importation rules will benefit the city.

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