Council warns of continuing shortages of trained workers
In a move that is likely to further irritate the unions, the Construction Industry Council is calling for labour imports in order to satisfy the relentless demand for labour as a result of the current building boom.
In a Sing Tao Daily story on Monday, council chairman Lee Shing-see said in the next two to three years, the construction industry would hit the peak period for labour demand.
He pointed to the CIC’s survey conducted during the period November 2012 to April 2013 and targetting members of the Hong Kong Construction Association, the Hong Kong Federation of Electrical and Mechanical Contractors and government departments.
It found the vacancy rate on construction sites in Hong Kong fluctuated was about 10 percent to 16 percent.
Lee said that based on an estimate of 60,000 to 70,000 workers working on site daily, that meant there were about 10,000 vacancies.
Such a situation was very serious given the current demands on the construction industry from public works and private development projects.
According to the CIC’s first Construction Expenditure Forecast released last March, total construction spending for the next five years in both the private and public sectors could reach as high as HK$870 billion.
In response the CIC has discussed the labour shortage at its meetings, Lee said, and it was agreed that training should be strengthened to attract more young workers.
However with 99 trades specified in the Construction Workers Registration Ordinance, it was not possible to provide comprehensive training for all 99 trades, Lee said.
The CIC listed 14 trades as experiencing severe shortages according to a council forecast released in September last year.
They include bar benders and fixer, drainlayer, plumber, carpenter, rock-bearing driller, metal worker, bricklayer and fire service mechanic.
As such, if the CIC could not train sufficient workers in the right trades then it would be necessary to import workers under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS), Lee said.
Labour imports are a political hot potato for the government with local unions vehemently opposed to companies importing any sort of labour.
In August the Labour Department approved an SLS application for the contractor working on the Mai Po to Ngau Tam Mei tunnel section of the Express Rail Link project being constructed by the MTR Corporation (0066).
Currently the CIC was training nearly 8,000 workers a year under various schemes such as the Build Up Training Programme and tailor-made courses for contractors but this was still insufficient to satisfy the demand of 10,000 workers.
Lee admitted that there was a problem in the wastage of new workers after they experience working on site for the first time under the sun and rain.
Council executive director Christopher To Wing pointed out that many shotfirers were trained during the Airport Core Programme but after the airport was completed, there was no demand for this trade.
For some trades, the sheer expense in providing specialised equipment was an obstacle.
To said it was simply unrealistic for the CIC to spend over HK$100 million to buy a tunnel boring machine (TBM) to train tunnel workers.
In any case, there were no instructors for this trade, To said.