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Building sector squeeze

Published on Friday, 22 Oct 2010

Faced with a shortage of skilled labour in certain categories, Hong Kong's booming construction sector is working with the government on a comprehensive plan covering training and worksite safety to attract recruits.

Chow Luen-kiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees' General Union, says certain subsectors of the industry, such as bar-bending and formwork, were short of workers. The union recently released a report pointing to an imminent wage increase for construction workers due to a spike in civil works and a shortage of labour.

Chow says he has seen positive indicators for the sector, such as the government's decision in July to categorise non-payment of wages as a criminal offence.

He also cites a steady number of construction jobs in the next four to five years with new infrastructure projects underway.

To boost the industry's appeal to young people, Chow has called for a plan to provide training in all labour-intensive construction subsectors - including bar-bending and scaffolding - and strict enforcement of safety measures.

In its recent wage report, based on data from more than 6,000 construction workers and some industry associations, the union concluded that daily wages would rise by 4 to 16 per cent from next month, compared with November last year. Bar-benders would enjoy the highest increase of HK$150 - up 15.8 per cent, from HK$950 to HK$1,100 per day.

Chow says it is about time construction workers had a pay rise given the recent surge in infrastructure works. "It has been 10 years since Hong Kong has seen a revival in the volume of construction projects," he says.

These include the government-initiated "Ten Major Infrastructure Projects", such as the construction of the Sha Tin to Central Link railway, the Hong Kong High-Speed Rail and the Kai Tak Development Project.

The picture looks rosy for the industry's aspirants and the 275,000 construction workers registered with the Construction Workers Registration Authority. The industry's unemployment rate stands at 7 per cent, down from 12.8 per cent last year.

In his policy address last week, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said expenditure on construction projects would exceed HK$50 billion annually over the next few years.

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