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Following is a question by the Hon Jeffrey Lam and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council on April 16:
Quite a number of employers have relayed to me that industries such as the construction, retail and catering, care services, etc., have all along been plagued with the problem of insufficient labour supply, resulting in an increase in their operating costs. They have also pointed out that the application procedures of the Supplementary Labour Scheme (the Scheme) under which employers may apply for labour importation are not only complicated but also very time-consuming. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the total number of cases of employers approved for importation of labour since the Scheme was implemented in 1996; the current number of workers employed to work in Hong Kong under the Scheme, and their median monthly wage;
(2) of the industry from which the highest number of applications under the Scheme was received in the past three years, together with the relevant number of such applications and, among them, the number of approved cases;
(3) of the time normally taken to complete the vetting-and-approval process of an application; whether the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) has capped the number of workers allowed to be imported by an individual enterprise; if it has, of the reasons for that; and
(4) in addition to the endorsement by LAB in last month of the Government’s proposal to expedite the process of importing workers for public works projects, whether the Government has considered simplifying the vetting-and-approval process of the Scheme and lowering the application conditions; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the question raised by the Hon Jeffrey Lam is as follows:
(1) The Labour Department (LD) has not kept records on the total number of approved cases since implementation of the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) in 1996. From 2011 to 2013, there were respectively 980, 1 942 and 1 847 imported workers approved under SLS.
According to information from the Immigration Department, there were altogether 2 976 imported workers under SLS in Hong Kong as at end-2013. The number of imported workers approved last year with breakdown by job title and median monthly wage is at Annex.
(2) From 2011 to 2013, most applications received annually by LD under SLS came from the elderly care sector. In the above three years, employers of the sector applied to import 771, 1 233 and 1 069 care workers (elderly service) respectively. The corresponding numbers of imported workers approved were 431, 864 and 651.
(3) Processing for the majority of SLS applications can be completed within around four months. However, the actual time required to process each application is affected by various factors (for instance, whether the applicant employer has provided sufficient information or requested to change the application details during processing, and whether special trade tests need to be administered for local job seekers during the open recruitment period, etc.). If the vacancies involve novel job titles or specific skills, LD needs more time to consult relevant policy bureaux or government departments, training bodies, accreditation authorities, etc., for their expert advice on setting the reasonable wages, entry requirements, work scopes, etc., in respect of the job titles concerned.
SLS has not prescribed a quota ceiling of imported workers for the labour market as a whole or for individual sectors.
(4) The Government has all along reviewed and streamlined the vetting criteria and procedures under SLS having regard to practical circumstances. We will continue to closely monitor the local manpower demand and supply, and conduct reviews as appropriate in consultation with LAB.