Speech at Council meeting-Members’ Motions: Expediting the importation of manpower to replenish hong kong’s labour force

Expediting the importation of manpower to replenish hong kong’s labour force


President, owing to factors such as an ageing population, a persistently low birth rate and emigration, the problem of labour shortage in Hong Kong has become increasingly serious.  The latest labour force figure announced by the Census and Statistics Department in March is 3 766 000, 174 000 fewer than 3.94 million three years ago, and the labour force participation rate has dropped from about 61% to 57.9%, which actually lies in the mid-to-lower range in the Asia-Pacific region.  Of course, there are many different reasons for the decline in the labour force participation rate.

However, it is an indisputable fact that various industries and job categories such as construction, catering, tourism, transportation, aviation and healthcare have the phenomena of manpower shortage and recruitment difficulties in professional and elementary positions.  As mentioned by some colleagues earlier, a number of large-scale infrastructure projects will be launched one after another, such as the Northern Metropolis and the artificial islands in the Central Waters.  Coupled with the return of a large number of tourists, there will definitely be growing demand for labour in the labour-intensive construction and service industries.

Labour shortage is not a problem unique to Hong Kong.  Of the population of 5.64 million in Singapore, about 70% are in the labour force, and about 1.42 million foreign workers were working there on work visas by the end of last year, accounting for about one third of the labour force.  As for Macao which is adjacent to Hong Kong, the departure of 44 000 non-local workers since the beginning of 2020 has resulted in a labour shortage there.  The entertainment venues as the mainstay of the economy have been forced to close thousands of hotel rooms and cut back on guest services such as room service.  The number of rooms available for booking at some five-star hotels has been reduced by half.

Earlier, the Government launched a special scheme to allow the importation of manpower to work as care workers in residential care homes (“RCHs”) for the elderly and RCHs for persons with disabilities across the territory, and the maximum quota for importation is 7 000 care workers.  The scheme is well received by the industry but given the huge demand for elderly services in the future, it is definitely necessary to continue to increase the quota for importation.  The manpower shortage in the local transportation industry and the fact that the workers are of higher age are unfavourable to the long-term development of the industry and commuting by the public.

In respect of our financial industry, the Labour and Welfare Bureau assessed a few years ago that by 2027, the demand for financial talents would reach 294 000 and that for banking talents would reach 113 000, with a respective shortage of 30 000 and 7 500 within 10 years.  However, according to the report on the Talent Development Survey published by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers last year, the talent shortage problem in Hong Kong’s banking industry will only continue to deteriorate in the next few years.  With the rapid development of digital technology in recent years, there is a substantial increase in the demands for financial technology and sustainable development talents, but these demands cannot be achieved through the traditional talent pool, and we must find a new way out.  Therefore, an urgent task for Hong Kong is to compete for talents and expeditiously replenish the labour force, which is also an essential condition for maintaining our international and regional competitiveness.  The Government is aware of the importance of talents to economic development, and the Top Talent Pass Scheme introduced in the Policy Address is highly welcomed as it helps to absorb top talents and solve the problem of shortage of professionals in Hong Kong; however, other labour-intensive industries are also earnestly waiting for solutions from the Government.

Certainly, on bringing in talents and importing foreign workers, it is necessary to balance the interests of various parties, and the undisputed premise is definitely protecting the employment opportunities and incomes of local workers and avoiding undermining the rights and interests of local workers.  Yet, if there is insufficient local supply, if it is impossible to cope with the situation through restructuring training, streamlining procedures and using electronic technologies, etc., and if local workers are not interested in certain job categories, we must resolutely import foreign workers to ensure sufficient manpower supply.  The industrial structure of Singapore is similar to that of Hong Kong, and the need of importing more than one million foreign workers to serve its population of about six million serves as a good reference for us.

I am thankful to Mr SHIU Ka-fai for his motion on “Expediting the importation of manpower to replenish Hong Kong’s labour force”; to effectively import foreign workers, the issues relating to qualifications and accommodation needs of foreign workers must also be addressed.  The former can be resolved through mutual recognition of qualifications, but housing is also a major problem for Hong Kong residents.  How can we manage to provide accommodation for foreign workers?

The motion suggests that the Government should allow the residents of Mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (“GBA”) who have been granted visas for employment in Hong Kong to travel between their work location in Hong Kong and place of residence in GBA in the same day.  I think this is a feasible and forward-looking proposal.  However, it will give rise to problems with ancillary transport facilities in terms of southbound traffic in the morning and northbound traffic in the evening, though the Government can explore solutions therefor.

President, in view of the above, I support the motion proposed by Mr SHIU Ka-fai and the amendments of four other colleagues.

I so submit.