The Construction Site Workers General Union has revealed that one of the Express Rail Link’s major contractors has submitted an application to import 48 bar- benders.
The union is trying to halt the importation of what it describes as “cheap and inexperienced workers” – making the claim that there are sufficient numbers of local bar- benders with barely enough work to go around.
If the application is approved, the imported bar- benders will then work on the West Kowloon terminus for two years according to the union.
Unions have been stead fast in maintaining that the claim of a labor shortage in Hong Kong is merely a political subterfuge.
However, the reality of the situation is that the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link will be under go continuous delays, while the costs have already sky rocketed well over budget.
Express Rail Link costs have already surged to HK$85.3 billion from the HK$65 billion original budget, with the start of operations deferred from 2017 to the third quarter of 2018.
This is a serious concern even if the MTR Corporation Ltd can legitimately point to current issues as arising from increasing construction costs and labor shortages.
If the ongoing debate over imported labor continuous as it is, then it will further delay the opening and increase the cost of labour even more, despite the claims made by the contractor that it will speed up construction.
According to the census data for May 2013, the average daily wage for a steel bar worker is HK$1,514.50. The union said yesterday the agreed casual rate is HK$1,930 a day, while the monthly wage would be HK$41,357.14 based on a five-day work week.
However, it claimed no one is willing to work as they are only offered HK$33,350 a month – a shortfall of HK$8,007.14 or about 19.4 percent.
With an increase in aging among the population coupled with a low birth rate and young generation reluctant to become blue-collar workers, there’s plenty of reasons to point to as to why the industry is suffering from a shortage of construction workers.
Big projects like the Express Rail Link have already been delayed, partially due to the labor shortage and with the government’s plan to build 480,000 homes over the next decade, and pressure is only bound to increase. The shortage has pushed up wages, further increasing prices in the world’s most expensive property market.
The shortage is most acute for highly skilled workers such as those trained in the traditional art of bamboo scaffolding. In another looming problem for the industry, half of Hong Kong’s 240,000 construction workers – most of them highly skilled – are over 50 years old. One is even 70.
In some cases, wages have doubled in the past six years, with a skilled concrete worker earning HK$2,200 a day. Any further delay will definitely push up the cost, which inevitably comes out of taxpayers’ pockets.
What should be done to ensure the Express Rail Link project doesn’t sink even further into the red will be up to the unionists, politicians and stake holders, but with each looking out for their own interests the likely hood of a consensus being reached anytime soon is becoming increasingly remote.