Refugees could fill labour shortages

Post Date: Nov 15th, 2013 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

We read once again in the newspaper that the government intends to import foreign workers to address significant labour shortage in key areas of the economy. It is hard to understand why such a call is made when thousands of refugees in Hong Kong are stubbornly denied the right to work, and are thus institutionally prevented from providing such indispensable labour.

Here is a considerable supply of workers that currently powers the informal economy and barely earns enough to survive. Interestingly, they return most if not all their income to society in the form of rent and extortionary utility bills paid to greedy landlords. Were these capable individuals allowed to work temporarily where labour is urgently needed, the government could kill two birds with one stone.

On one hand, it would make use of flexible and readily available workers who desire nothing else but to be made productive during the time they await their asylum claims to be processed. On the other, the government would only need to provide welfare assistance to those unable to work, while allowing others to deploy underutilized skills. It makes good economic sense to explore this solution.

We ask: isn’t it in the best interest of all parties to allow refugees to work when they are skilled, young and physically able to endure arduous work, thus boosting the stretched labour supply? Doesn’t it make economic sense to save on labour import cost and employ people already in the city, who are currently denied any chance to contribute their skills to society?

We are told that it will be hard to complete future construction projects without resorting to foreign labour. Some refugees report that construction site managers approached them in the streets offering work because their boss faces tight schedules to deliver projects under conditions of labour shortage. Often, refugees turn such offers down, because they lack work rights and fear incarceration.

We question the use of rendering unproductive the entire community of refugees that is keen to engage in hard work to be considered “humans and not dogs”, because “even dogs are expected to do something, while we are just made to beg for food”. The government must bear in mind these are human beings with fundamental human rights, irrespective of the merits of each asylum case.

Refugees could be granted limited work rights in specific sectors of the economy, for a limited amount of hours per week. They could be offered alternative visa arrangements to step out of the asylum impasse. They could receive temporary worker visa to provide for themselves and their families back home. Refugees are not economic migrants. However – just like you and me – they too have pressing economic needs. What would happen to you and your family if you were unemployed for a decade?

The Security Bureau insists that granting work rights to refugees would engender a serious risk to the local labour force. What if the labour force is insufficient for the economic needs of the city? Wouldn’t that also be a serious threat to growth and prosperity? Vision First firmly reiterates that refugees would be an asset for Hong Kong, if only their skills and resourcefulness were wisely deployed.

It’s time for some lateral thinking outside the old ‘prejudice box’.

Refugees toil in the shadow economy to supplement a failed welfare system