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Following is a question by Ir Dr Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 17):
According to the findings of a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Construction Association at the end of last year, there was a shortfall of more than 15 per cent of workers, i.e. over 10 000, in the construction industry. On the other hand, the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) endorsed on March 26 this year a proposal to expedite the labour importation processes for public works projects, including railway projects. The authorities have set up a dedicated task force to help examine the applications for importing labour of 26 designated trades prior to their submission to LAB for vetting and approval (the enhancement measure). Regarding the importation of workers of the construction industry, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has assessed the effectiveness of the enhancement measure, including the extent to which the time for vetting and approval of applications for importing labour has been shortened and the percentage of successful applications has increased; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) as the enhancement measure is only aimed at expediting the labour importation processes and is only applicable to public works projects and the 26 trades, whereas the manpower shortage in the construction industry remains serious, whether the authorities will expeditiously review the Supplementary Labour Scheme and relax the various restrictions on labour importation, in order to meet the demand for construction workers when the infrastructure construction is in full swing; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it will expeditiously work out a list of infrastructural projects prioritised according to their degree of urgency and conduct an comprehensive human resources survey in collaboration with the construction sector to facilitate a comprehensive review of the policy on importation of construction workers; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Government has all along been committed to implementing public works projects in accordance with work schedule and within budget with a view to improving the quality of life of the public and enhancing the long-term competitiveness of Hong Kong.
The Government and the Construction Industry Council (CIC) have been actively implementing a host of multi-pronged measures to cope with the tight manpower situation of the construction industry. These measures include enhancing training of local construction workers and attracting more new entrants to join the construction industry.
Although the above-mentioned initiatives have been implemented smoothly and have attained certain results, the shortage of skilled construction workers has yet to be fully resolved. Hence, with due regard to the principle of not affecting the employment and not lowering the wages of local workers, the construction industry needs to import skilled workers in a timely manner. Currently, contractors having genuine difficulties in recruiting suitable staff locally may consider applying for importation of workers at or below technician level through the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS).
My reply to Ir Dr Hon Lo Wai-kwok’s question is as follows:
(1) and (2) SLS commenced operation in 1996 with the policy objective that employers must accord priority to recruiting local workers to fill job vacancies at technician level or below in the labour market. If employers cannot recruit enough qualified local workers during the four-week local recruitment, the Labour Department (LD) will forward the applications with relevant information to the Labour Advisory Board for advice. The Government will then make the decision to approve or reject the applications.
The Government has rolled out enhancement measure since April this year to expedite the preparatory works for SLS applications involving 26 trades with manpower shortage submitted by contractors for public works. In recent years, it took an average of 7.5 months in processing construction-related SLS applications. The enhancement measure aims to complete the processing of the relevant applications within 6 months.
Hitherto, the average time for completing the processing of the applications under the enhancement measure was around 4.5 months, which is much shorter than the target processing time of within 6 months. As other applications are still under processing, the Government cannot provide the percentage of successful applications under the enhancement measure at this stage.
As the afore-mentioned new arrangements have only been put in place for a short time, most of the applications are still being processed. We are closely monitoring the situation of individual applications. We will review the effectiveness of the new arrangements in a timely manner and explore and roll out other enhancement measures as required.
(3) The Government has all along been adopting long-term planning for infrastructure projects and will continuously invest in worthwhile infrastructure in a timely manner to meet social needs and enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness. We will continue to prioritise our infrastructure projects with due regard to the merits and urgency of individual projects and fiscal sustainability of the Capital Works Programme with a view to taking forward these projects in an orderly manner.
Further, to address the manpower needs of the construction industry, CIC will continue to update regularly its assessment of the manpower supply and demand for skilled workers in light of the latest forecast of construction output of both the public and private sectors and will adjust in a timely manner its training initiatives to meet the industry demand. Notwithstanding, even taking into account training efforts, the construction industry will still be facing acute manpower shortage in the future. According to CIC’s latest forecast released in October this year, there will be a shortage of about 10 000 to 15 000 skilled workers in the industry in the coming years.
We are given to understand from the construction industry that there are some unique operational characteristics of the construction industry such that it would be facing some uncertainties in applying for labour importation through SLS not encountered by other industries. For instance, before the award of a contract, a contractor cannot plan in advance their manpower demand of their project works accurately. On the other hand, once a contract is awarded, the contractor will usually need to commence works shortly to meet the scheduled completion time. Besides, construction works are carried out in sequential order and they may be affected by factors such as weather conditions, supply of materials and manpower, progress of upstream work processes and so on. These make it difficult for contractors to undertake accurate planning for their manpower requirements. In this connection, we will continue to maintain close liaison with the industry to explore further enhancements on importation of workers having regard to the characteristics of the industry so as to fulfill the needs of the industry and the community at large.
Thank you, President.