Impact of Introduction of the No-Saturday-Site-Work Arrangement
on the Manpower Supply for the Construction Industry in Hong Kong 2013-02-28
Dashun Policy Research Centre is delighted to have completed the research project on "Impact of Introduction of the No-Saturday-Site-Work Arrangement on the Manpower Supply for the Construction Industry in Hong Kong" with support from the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The research project is funded by the Hong Kong Construction Association Ltd. which aims to gain a preliminary understanding of the general public's attitude towards the introduction of the No-Saturday-Site-Work initiative with a view to attracting more young people to join the construction workforce and to ensure the sustained growth of the industry.
With over 70% respondents indicating that they support the extension of rest period to Saturdays for construction workers, the telephone study results are more than encouraging. This is also a clear signal from the general public on the need for continuous enhancement of labour welfare. Dashun believes that such arrangement would also significantly improve the hygiene factors for attracting new recruits and raising occupational safety and health standards. Hong Kong as an international metropolitan city is advancing to a knowledge-based economy and the general public will be pursuing higher quality of life and following work practices which have long been adopted by developed countries. Undoubtedly, the No-Saturday-Site-Work arrangement would be seen as a major initiative towards this end which needs to be taken forward by the construction industry and the Government of Hong Kong.
Although the telephone survey results are very promising, interviews with construction workers and stakeholders have revealed both short and medium terms concerns in wage levels and the pressure of completing contracts within specified periods. Dashun believes that these concerns are genuine but such hurdles should not be seen as insurmountable in light of successful implementation of the scheme in more advanced countries. No-Saturday-Site-Work could be pursued as a long-term target and included in the agenda for all stakeholders to further explore its feasibility, and possible ways as well as time-frame for implementation in the Hong Kong environment.
Role of the Construction Industry
Dashun believes that the industry should facilitate the process by engaging the stakeholders in open dialogues to discuss the initiative. Government, workers’ unions, property developers, contractors, consultants and all those involved in the industry should voice their concerns, indicate their preferences and seek for solutions to problems raised. The industry as an important economic pillar of Hong Kong has made remarkable progress not just by technological advancements but also through continuous improvements in the quality of labour, working conditions and practices, as well as site and safety management. In response to the challenge of labour shortage and ageing of the workforce in the construction industry, there is obviously a strong case for the industry to conduct more in-depth studies on the need and feasibility of introducing No-Saturday-Site-Work and formulate suitable proposals to Government on its implementation.
Role of the Government
The Statutory Minimum Wage has come into force in May 2011 and the issue of Standard Working Hours is now in the consultation stage. Over the past years, the Government has taken decisive steps and measures in attempts to build a harmonious society. In July 2006, the Government paved the way and led the Hong Kong society by extending the rest period to Saturdays. Many local and international organizations are now practising the same with both Saturdays and Sundays set as rest days for employees without observing a drop in staff productivity. Dashun believes that the Government should take the lead in progressively introducing this scheme to other private sectors such as the construction industry, thus helping to build a sustainable industry for the long-term growth of the economy.
The current study reveals favourable supports for taking the initiative of “No Saturday Site Work” forward as apparent from the following main findings:
i. young participants in the focus groups generally welcomed the proposal which would allow them more free leisure time;
ii. over 70% of the telephone respondents favoured the implementation of the Proposal; and
iii. on the premise that the existing pay level could be maintained, the support in ii) above increased to 80% and that some 44% of the telephone respondents were willing to encourage their job-seeking family members, relatives or friends to become construction workers.
While there were concerns about failure to meet the deadline scheduled for project completion and failure to meet the tight schedule of different construction projects, such concerns were due to lack of understanding that the new initiative would only be implemented in new contracts with due provisions for any effects the proposal might have on contract period and programme of works.
As for the concerns on the reduction of the construction workers’ overall take-home pay and the doubt about the possibility of being given 6-day pay with only 5-day work, not least such views that the existing employment relationship between construction workers and their sub-contractors and the wage payment arrangement would be non-starters for the initiative, Dashun believes that the overseas experience in compressed working week could render moving closer to a win-win situation for employers and employees of the Hong Kong construction industry.
In view of the potential implications of the proposal to the construction industry in particular and the Hong Kong community in general, Dashun recommends setting up a task group with representatives from the relevant bureau, public bodies and utilities companies, HKCA, HKEMCA, HKSCA as well as construction workers’ unions to resolve the differences amongst some stakeholders of the construction industry and the problems that have to be overcome for implementation.
Dashun would not underestimate the substantial amount of work involved and the challenges in overcoming some formidable hurdles for implementation. With the work and experience gained in the current study, Dashun could assume a facilitator’s role in taking the initiative forward and contribute to its successful implementation.