Hong Kong’s labour market has been close to full employment in recent years, with the unemployment rate standing at 2.8%. This is having an impact on Hong Kong companies, and many of my business friends have been telling me how difficult they are finding it to hire new staff.
To address the pressing manpower needs across various sectors and promote diversified economic development in Hong Kong, the Government should – on the premise of giving priority to local workers – take a flexible approach to importing foreign labour.
In fact, with the Government’s plans for major infrastructure projects, including reclamation, land development and construction, coupled with a significant structural change in our workforce, jobs that require less skill or minimal educational are facing an acute shortage. Looking ahead, we can expect to see staffing shortages in sectors such as construction, retail and elderly care.
According to the latest figures released by the Labour and Welfare Bureau, 3,225 workers were imported under the Supplementary Labour Scheme last year, almost a 20% increase on the previous year.
Among them, care workers in elderly services formed the majority, accounting for 43% of the total, reflecting the huge demand for workers in this area. I hope the Government will continue to import foreign workers in response to the needs of various sectors, while continuing to safeguard the “rice bowls” of local workers and without affecting the quality and safety of our industries.
On the other hand, labour shortages can lead to lower productivity, increased errors and higher risk of accidents, which is a cause for concern. Local hospitals have been complaining about understaffing and urging for more well-trained healthcare staff.
But even if the Government increases the number of medical school places, the pressing manpower issue would still remain as it takes at least seven years to train a doctor. To address the scarcity of doctors as soon as possible, the Government should consider providing incentives to compete with other countries and regions to recruit overseas doctors.
Indeed, the political reality is that the issue of labour importation has always met with strong opposition from some political groups and labour organizations. In my opinion, stakeholders should strike a balance between the interests of the sectors concerned and the public, and should treasure talent with respect.
As a responsible Government, it is necessary to take an all-round approach to tackle the acute labour shortage in the city by importing overseas workers. Meanwhile, other stakeholders should look beyond their personal interests and give priority to the well-being of the community. Otherwise, the economic development of Hong Kong could be caught in the manpower bottleneck.