Shortage of labour is not a new story in Hong Kong. Importing more foreign workers is one viable solution to the issue; however, this remains a highly contentious topic. Concerns over how a large influx of foreign workers could affect the local economy and culture have led major stakeholders to not reach a consensus over the many years the discussion has been held.
At a recent meeting of the Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee, Liberal Party lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who represents the wholesale and retail sectors, put forth the subject once more over Hong Kong’s diminishing labour situation.
Shiu warned the council that Hong Kong could potentially “go bust” if it did not import foreign labour to resolve the issue soon. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the government would seriously consider the option.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung also responded on his official blog, admitting that chronic manpower shortage could hinder Hong Kong’s economic development. Cheung added that the administration would focus on certain industries that suffering from the weight of labour shortage the most and seriously study the feasibility of importing foreign labour.
A major factor that have been miring efforts to import more foreign workers into Hong Kong is how local workers and businesses might react. The key to winning majority support in society for importing foreign labour lies in the government striking a reasonable balance between the interests of local workers and the business sector. The government must also pander to the average citizens in their capacity as either consumers or service receivers.
Another factor is whether or not the Hong Kong government can provide sufficient and decent policy support for the effort; so that local workers would be guaranteed both job opportunities and fair wage levels, while ensuring that the overall business operation costs won’t sky-rocket and result in elevated prices of goods and services.
Nevertheless, any call for importing overseas labour will inevitably provoke a fierce backlash among the local labour sector, whose biggest concern is that this could open the floodgates to foreign workers, thereby resulting in either jobs being taken away from locals, or overall salary levels being driven down.
In order to resolve fundamental differences between the business and labour sectors, the government must provide proof that the local labour market is not sufficient to meet the manpower needs of certain industries, hence the necessity to import foreign labour.
At the same time, the administration must also work to reassure local workers that importing foreign labour will not threaten their livelihood; all the while devising a way to fill positions with local workers and fix job market mismatch.