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Take Me to Hire Ground: “Labor Shortage” Allegations Now Being Disputed in Asia, Too.

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There’s something happening here. And what it is, is…kind of becoming exactly clear.

For the past few years, Canadian and American labor organizations from industries including construction have denied claims that a labor shortage exists in their respective countries. Therefore, they do not see a need for foreign workers to be imported to fill vacancies. The foreign workers, rights advocates say, are often brought in simply to undercut wages. The visa process for temporary and foreign labor, they add, is frequently abused.

A large number of these foreign workers are shipped in from Asia, so it caught our attention when The South China Morning Post ran a piece about Asian labor unions facing many of the same problems as their North American peers.  Trade unions in China have come out against an alleged labor shortage, denouning it as “fake.” The Confederation of Trade Unions is claiming that the reported labor shortage was created as a “smokescreen” by the government and management in an attempt to import foreign labor and lower wages across the board.  


According to Construction Site Workers General Union Vice-Chairman Chung Ling-so:

“We have more than 80 per cent turnover in some areas of our industry.  The Construction Industry Council is supposed to provide us with young workers with the right skills, but many of their [educational] courses are wrong and the industry cannot absorb them.”

“The government is spreading this false information of a labour shortage. It is a smokescreen,” he said.

The government has said steps must be taken to bring in foreign labor to help on a major railroad expansion in the region.  Local trades unions argue that there are enough workers for the job and that bringing in foreign labor would only hurt local workers.

In November, MTR said it needed 2,000 more workers to help make sure the HK$67 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link could be completed by next year.

“The figures are not convincing. They are just using excuses and false signs to cheat us,” said Fan, adding that most construction was already past the peak season and importing more labour would only create oversupply and drag down wages.

“The MTR Corporation can’t explain why their contractors of main infrastructure projects are in such a shortage and how much labour they actually need,” Fan said.

Maggie So Man-kit, the MTR’s deputy general manager for projects, has said that any need for foreign labor would go through the “Supplementary Labour Scheme,” a program that helps employers with “genuine difficulties” find foreign labor at the technician level or below.  This sounds oddly familiar. With respect to the United States’ H-2B visa, employers must be able to prove their need for foreign labor, but the information used to do this is constantly disputed. For instance, some H-2B visas are issued for jobs as mundane as summertime country club cafeteria and groundskeeping work. To suggest that this work can’t be performed by local workers is preposterous.

Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has said that he hopes the bureau will consult with the Labour Advisory Council to find ways to relax the vetting process of the Supplementary Labour Scheme.  He said that, if necessary, the process would follow the three principles of “not affecting local workers’ employment, wages and benefits.” But what is clear is that the government’s position is to make it easier to bring in lower-wage workers. This is the very problem we are facing in the U.S. and Canada.

The rules are only as good as their enforcers. And if Canadian companies are demanding Asian workers to fill an alleged void while Asian companies are saying they have a shortage of their own, something has got to give. It is difficult not to believe the wage-suppression claims of the worker representatives when, globally, the same exact tricks are being used.


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