Government also lifting import ban on low-skilled staff for two years
To address Hong Kong's labour woes, the government is introducing a new labour importation scheme that will bring in 20,000 foreign workers for the construction and transportation sectors.
The scheme aims to import 12,000 workers for the construction sector and 8,000 for the transportation sector, which will include 6,300 for the aviation industry and 1,700 for the public light bus/coach trade.
According to the government, it wants to launch the labour importation scheme in July and start processing the applications then.
"We don't expect to fully utilise the quota in the first year, so it will be a progressive process, but we do believe that the quotas may be fully utilised sometime next year," said Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong in a press conference.
The scheme will not just be open to workers in mainland China, but they are expecting many applications to come from there, according to Wong.
"Our experience in the past has been that it will mainly be Mainland workers because of the geographic proximity and convenience.”
Participating employers must fulfill a manning ratio of two full-time local staff for one imported labour, who will be paid no less than the median monthly wages of their local counterparts.
"Employers must engage the imported labour under a Standard Employment Contract and pay the Employees Retraining Levy at the start of the contract period," the government also said in a media release.
It is also part of employers' obligation to arrange the accommodation for imported labourers. They can provide them a place to stay or let them reside in their residential premises on the mainland.
"With regard to residency, while they are in Hong Kong, they will be non-permanent Hong Kong residents. The situation is quite similar to other imported workers under the current Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS), so their status would not change from non-permanent Hong Kong residents to permanent Hong Kong residents. In other words, after they finish their work contracts in Hong Kong, they will leave," Wong said.
The programme will also bypass vetting by union leaders, according to a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP), as the Labour Advisory Board will only be engaged periodically on the implementation of the importation scheme.
SLS enhancement for low-skilled jobs
Meanwhile, the import ban on 26 low-skilled job types will also be eased for two years under an enhanced SLS, according to the government.
These jobs include shop sales staff, waiters, receptionists, hair stylists, junior cooks, and delivery workers, the SCMP reported.
Wong said the scheme does "not have an upper limit."
"But if you look at what actually happened in the past, for the time being, the number of workers imported under the Supplementary Labour Scheme, if we excluded the care worker sector, we're talking about between 1,000 and 2,000. So, it's not that many," he said.
Hong Kong's labour shortage
The new measures come as Hong Kong businesses suffer from a talent shortage.
Almost three-quarters of employers in Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce's latest survey revealed that they have been struggling to find talent.
Among them, 61% said they have been short of labourers for up to three years now. Employers pinned the blame on employees' desire for higher pay and emigration.
Hong Kong's local labour force, excluding foreign domestic helpers, decreased to 3.46 million in 2022 after peaking in 2018 at 3.68 million. The low-skilled workforce also decreased by about 160,000.
"Hong Kong faces a structural labour force shrinkage owing to population ageing," a government spokesperson said in a media release.
The government has implemented various measures to address the problem, including launching the SLS and expanding its Talent List to expand the potential pool of workers.
"Nonetheless, we still need to take other relevant measures to ensure that the labour supply can support Hong Kong's long-term development," the spokesperson said.