Following is a question by the Hon Jeffrey Lam and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 25):
It is learnt that despite substantial wage rises in the construction industry for eight consecutive years to attract and retain manpower, and the authorities' efforts to strengthen vocational training for the industry, the construction industry is still facing the problem of manpower shortage. Besides, as there are insufficient training venues and facilities, the number of training places offered by some training courses (e.g. operation of heavy plant and equipment) cannot be increased to cope with the demand. There are views that as a number of major infrastructure projects will soon commence in Hong Kong, the authorities should seriously explore the feasibility of further importation of foreign labour. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows, regarding the training courses offered by the Construction Industry Council and the Vocational Training Council for each of the trades (including heavy plant and equipment operator, formwork carpenter, bar bender and fixer, bamboo scaffolder, metal scaffolder, leveller and concretor) in each of the past three years, (i) the student intake; (ii) the percentage of the student intake in the number of training places offered; and (iii) the number of persons waiting for admission;
(2) whether the authorities have conducted studies on the supply of and demand for places of training courses of the construction industry in the past three years; if they have conducted such studies and the outcome shows that such places were in short supply, of the authorities' solutions and the relevant details; if they have not conducted such studies, the reasons for that;
(3) of the number of applications for importation of labour received by the authorities since the implementation of further enhancement measures under the Supplementary Labour Scheme in May this year and, among them, the numbers of approved cases and workers involved, with a breakdown of such information by trade; and
(4) as it takes time to train up construction workers and a number of major infrastructure projects (including the Expansion of Hong Kong International Airport into a Three-Runway System project) will soon commence, which will surely aggravate the manpower shortage problem, whether the authorities will review the policy on importation of foreign labour, including setting a certain number of foreign workers to be imported and further enhancing the relevant measures, so as to resolve the problem of manpower shortage in the construction industry; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Government and the Construction Industry Council (CIC) have all along been committed to strengthening training for local construction workers and attracting more new entrants to join the construction industry. Although these training initiatives have been implemented smoothly and have attained certain results, the shortage of skilled construction workers has yet to be fully resolved. Having regard to the report on manpower forecast for construction workers released by the CIC in October 2014, the shortage of skilled construction workers would continue in the coming years. Under the premise of safeguarding the priority employment of local workers and their wage levels, the construction industry needs to import skilled workers in a timely and effective manner in order to cope with the keen manpower demand of the construction industry and sustain the economic and social development of Hong Kong.
My reply to the four parts of the Hon Lam's question is as follows:
(1) Information on the training courses offered by the CIC and the Vocational Training Council (VTC) in the past three years is set out in the Annex.
(2) According to the VTC's record, in the past three years, the construction related training courses offered by the VTC had generally provided adequate training places and no applicant had to wait before admission.
Meanwhile, some short courses offered by the CIC including metal scaffolding (English) course, training of general welders and machine operation courses (note: the related courses include excavator operation, mobile crane operation and tower crane operation) have higher intake rates while the waiting time for admission is relatively long (generally less than three months but six months or more for individual courses), which can be mainly attributed to inadequate training venues, facilities and instructors.
The CIC has been allocating more resources for hiring instructors, setting up new and altering existing training centres, redeploying existing resources to increase the number of training places particularly for courses of greater needs such as metal scaffolding (English) course and training of general welders with a view to reducing the waiting time to less than six months. For machine operation courses, the CIC is also implementing a series of improvement measures according to the needs for individual courses to reduce the waiting time for admission. They include hiring more instructors, restructuring of the training courses, stepping up the collaboration with contractors in collaborative training, and procuring new machinery and computer simulated excavators.
(3) In May 2015, having regard to the unique characteristics of the construction industry, the Government launched flexibility enhancement measures under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) to allow public sector works contractors to enhance flexibility in deployment of imported workers and allow imported workers to work across more than one public sector works contract. The resulting synergy effects could achieve more effective utilisation of productivity. Since the launch of the flexibility enhancement measures, the Labour Department has received a total of nine construction related SLS applications as at end-October. Of them, there were two applications related to flexibility enhancement measures and they are under processing.
(4) The Government has all along been committed to implementing public works projects, including the Three-Runway System, in accordance with work schedule and within budget with a view to improving the quality of life of the public and enhancing the long-term competitiveness of Hong Kong. The Government will keep close contact with the industry stakeholders and monitor the supply and demand for construction workers. We will review the effectiveness of various enhancement measures in a timely manner and make necessary adjustments as appropriate. Should these measures fail to effectively resolve the acute shortage problem of construction workers, the Government will keep open to all viable options.
Ends/Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Issued at HKT 11:32