One of the city’s biggest business chambers on Tuesday urged the authorities to import labour to address labour shortages. This came after a recent survey by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce found 36 percent of companies had either downsized, closed or were planning to move all or some of their operations elsewhere due to a lack of workers.
Of the 196 firms that took part in the survey in April, 74 percent reported manpower shortages, and over 80 percent of those said the problem had lasted for more than a year.
The chamber's CEO, George Leung, said 70 percent of companies cited emigration as one of the main factors. He said the study also identified a new post-Covid trend of people looking for a better work-life balance.
Leung said these two factors have contributed to a significant reduction in the SAR's labour pool, and the trend is unlikely to reverse in the coming years.
He said he did not expect people migrating would be back in one or two years.
"And also [for] people who enjoy better family life and less income, I can hardly see why they need to come out ... to work longer hours."
Despite the brain drain, about 80 percent of the companies said they had not applied to get staff through the government's talent admission scheme. Just over half said the scheme did not cover job categories they were seeking.
Leung acknowledged the government's efforts to address manpower shortages by expanding its labour importation schemes and increasing job categories under its list of talents eligible for immigration under various admission schemes. But he urged it to do more.
"The gap is so big. The government has to be more proactive to look for some other channels to import large numbers of labour, particularly those in the middle level and also the frontline people," he said.
Leung said the administration should consider importing frontline workers from the Greater Bay Area, despite the many challenges that lie ahead.
"We have no choice. We need a large numbers of labour in a short period."
Leung said while offering a better remuneration package is the most effective way for big companies and the government to attract talent, it may not be the best approach to take.
"Eventually, the total labour force is not sufficient to support all the companies. So those who have less financial capability... need to scale down their operations or eventually need to close down. This is not good news to the Hong Kong economy," he explained.
Looking ahead, the chamber gave an estimate of a real GDP growth of 4.2 percent this year - relatively conservative compared to the government's upper economic growth forecast of 5.5 percent.
Leung explained that this is due to poor trade prospects due to the weaker-than-expected economies in the US, Europe, and China, adding that Hong Kong's reliance on exports made the trade outlook less promising.