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Allow mainland Chinese to work at our yards, Hong Kong repairers plead

Allow mainland Chinese to work at our yards, Hong Kong repairers plead

Hong Kong: Hong Kong's two ship repair yards - HUD and Yiu Lian, are reporting unheard of 90% dock occupancy for the past 18 months. Yet, if this important sector is to continue, and even turn a profit, then the Hong Kong government must rescind old immigration rules and allow mainland Chinese skilled labourers to work at the territory's yards, say Hong Kong's two main repair companies.
The single greatest cost component of ship repair is manpower, accounting for in excess of 50% of total costs. According to the CIA World Fact Book Hong Kong GDP per capita stands at US$32,900 while across the border on the mainland equivalent figure stands at $6,800. It is this disparity, coupled with high property prices, that makes Hong Kong repair uncompetitive. Chinese yards are 30 to 40% cheaper. By being only two small yards, the Hong Kong pair also lack purchasing power.
Furthermore, there is significant concern about where the next generation of Hong Kong shipyard workers will come from. Industrial jobs are increasingly rare in Hong Kong and the prospect of welding in a dock holds minimal allure in this fast paced city. A training scheme has been launched by the Maritime Industry Council to encourage youngsters with thus far limited take up.
'The Hong Kong government is still very strict about Chinese workers here,' complains Brian Png, sales manager at HUD. The yard wants to get skilled labour in from south China for such tasks as blasting and coating but the government until this year has refused. However, this year the government has allowed 20 Chinese workers to come to HUD and Png is hopeful of more coming next year.
Yiu Lian's commercial manager, Bill Ng, is more forthright. 'The Hong Kong government is not nearly as smart as the Singaporean government who acknowledged this shortfall in the next generation and so allowed other workers from elsewhere to allow Singapore to remain a premier repair centre despite the growth of China,' he says. 'We want the government to understand our situation and to get some skilled labour from China.'
In similarly high salary places such as Japan and Singapore the government has moved to allow the likes of Vietnamese and Filipinos to come in and bolster the work force and thus provide a lifeline to an otherwise endangered industry. In the case of Singapore ship repair is now a booming, highly profitable industry.  [17.08.06]

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