Watch it on labour imports, says union official

Watch it on labour imports, says union official

Labour Advisory Board to subject applications to greater scrutiny

Contractors should not have any illusions about importing labour in order to maintain progress, especially on those projects where strikes have occurred, a union worker has warned.

Chinese newspaper Sing Tao Daily reported Wednesday that the Labour Advisory Board of the Labour Department, which acts as the first gatekeeper in labour import applications, would take a dim view of any attempt to get round labour disputes by bringing outside workers.

Chau Siu-chung, the treasurer of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions and an employees’ representative on the Labour Advisory Board said  in the past six months, contractors on the Express Rail Link project of the MTR Corporation (0066) have imported more than 320 workers under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS).

With the recent strike on Monday at a Kwai Chung site of one of the contracts for the Express Rail Link, the board would take an even closer look at the details of any applications.

These include the hours of work of individual trades, safety measures and workers’ health.

Chau said in past applications, contractors did not specifically mention meal time arrangements but in future cases, the board would closely scrutinize such arrangements and other details.

One of the grievances that triggered Monday’s strike was a demand by the main contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia) that tunnel workers remain in the tunnel to take their meals despite oppressively hot temperatures inside.

The standards for assessing applications for labour imports have not changed, Chau said.

These include not being able to find workers locally; that provision of training is of no use in attracting workers; wages have to be at market levels and that there is a genuine need for labour.

Chau said contractors applying to import labour because of industrial action was not sufficient a reason for approval and he himself would object to it, as a member of the board.

Another member of the board, on the employers side, president of the Hong Kong Construction Association and also CEO of Gammon Construction Thomas Ho On-sing said finding workers for tunnel works has been difficult.

“Hong Kong people are unwilling to do it,” Ho was quoted by Sing Tao as saying.

In order to meet the target completion date of 2015 for the Express Rail Link, it was necessary to import labour.

As such, the Supplementary Labour Scheme had to be speeded up.

Regarding the delays at the West Kowloon Terminus North project of the Express Rail Link, Ho said the main contractor Leighton-Gammon Joint Venture was currently drafting a proposal to complete part of the works in the limited time available.

The proposal would be submitted to MTRC in three months’ time.

There have been similar precedents, Ho said, pointing to the International Commerce Centre at Kowloon Station where the square was completed first with the building coming later.

MTR Corporation says any labour imports would depend on whether its contractors are able to find suitable local candidates. Separately Leighton-Gammon Joint Venture the main contractor for the West Kowloon Terminus North pictured above says it will submit a plan in three months' time for partial completion of the project within the limited time available   (Danny Chung)

MTR Corporation says any labour imports would depend on whether its contractors are able to find suitable local candidates. Separately Leighton-Gammon Joint Venture the main contractor for the West Kowloon Terminus North pictured above says it will submit a plan in three months’ time for partial completion of the project within the limited time available (Danny Chung)

A spokeswoman for the MTRC said: “The MTR Corporaton always encourages contractors to employ local labour, but the decision on employment made by the contractors is subject to the need and genuine difficulties of finding suitable technical workers in local market.”

She said Labour Department approved a SLS application on 8 August that was submitted by the CRCC-HC-CR15G Joint Venture on the Mai Po to Ngau Tam Mei Tunnels contract of the Express Rail Link.

At the start of this month, Sing Tao Daily reported that the Labour Advisory Board was likely to support one of two applications for imported workers for the Express Rail Link.

For the successful case, the MTRC said it had followed procedures in the scheme by advertising for workers in local newspapers for four weeks but no application was received.

A subsequent referral though the Labour Department yielded 10 local workers but that was not enough so the contractor was forced to make an application.

The company has held three job fairs since 2011 in conjunction with industry stakeholders to attract workers with the last fair held in late June.

A government press release last month said there were 2,612 imported workers under the Supplementary Labour Scheme as at the end of June 2013.

Danny Chung

 

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