Hong Kong’s 440,000 construction workers have seen a 7.8% rise in their salaries this year, nearly double of the 3.9% growth in the city’s overall salary increase.
Many workers including those who mix and place concrete will be earning HK$2,600 a day (US$333), as much or more than government officials. That works out to US$7,326 if they work 22 days a month, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union.
In percentage terms, the biggest beneficiary with more than 10% pay rise are carpenters, painters and bar benders — who lay steel frame foundations. But trade unions are worried that the future prospects do not look as sunny because many construction projects have been stalled by the government. The Hong Kong Construction Alliance, a trade union, said at least 30 projects are held up due to differences within different agencies of the government and political disputes in the city’s Legislative Council (Legco). Until last July, only 5% of the projects planned for 2017 had been cleared to start construction. New public works approved amounted HK$4.8 billion ($600 million) against the overall plans for projects worth $86 billion ($11 billion). The alliance has advised the government to launch construction of projects worth at least HK$70 billion every year to make sure that the construction industry is sustainable and the city continues to be a competitive international center.
“The problem of not having enough work has become more serious this year,” said Chow Luen-kiu, construction union chairman. A large section of workers including bar benders and concrete craft workers got as little as 13 to 15 days of work a month this year. This is much less than the situation last year when they found work for 20-22 days a month. Thus, the actual income of these workers has come down by 20% or more. Much of the advantage of wage rise is lost owing to insufficient work. and it does not help to get a 10% rise in the rate of wage.
One of the challenges is Beijing’s insistence that laws mainland China laws should also apply to projects in Hong Kong, where local politicians are pushing back. Though part of China, Hong Kong and Macau have the legal status of autonomous territories with independent laws and democratic practices that are different from the Communist party-run mainland China.
An important project which has been caught up in the controversy is the 119-kilometer rail line connecting Hong Kong to Guangzhou in South China.
Legco and other official bodies are delaying project approval because the city has been the midst of a series of political disruptions caused by the pro-democracy movement, which aims to block attempts by Beijing to impose to impose the Communist legal system and "stifle democracy," union leaders said.
Unions say delays also come from opposition lawmakers, who regularly challenge many project plans on the grounds of a lack of transparency in decision-making, high costs and low efficiency.
Even the construction of residential buildings has plunged 87% in the third quarter of this year, when only 800 residential projects were constructed as compared 6,000 in the same period last year, according to the city's transport and housing bureau.
Housing construction reached its peak in the year 2000 last year when 25,500 projects came up. In comparison, only 9,300 such projects have been built in the first three quarters of 2017. Analysts said the year will end with 50% less turnover in terms of residential buildings as compared to 2016.
This is the ninth consecutive year of wage hikes for Hong Kong's construction workers. Thanks to major infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, construction has been the best performing economic sector. .