Hong Kong’s construction industry grinds to halt, and union says coronavirus has left 50,000 workers jobless

Lilian Cheng

Some 50,000 construction workers in Hong Kong have lost their jobs since the coronavirus epidemic hit, and more than 80,000 have had their hours slashed, a union said on Monday.

The Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union said half of its 57,000 members were now unemployed, a situation it attributed to supply chain issues that had arisen since the outbreak began.

Some 250,000 people work in the industry in Hong Kong, and the union said a fifth had been laid off while a third of those fortunate enough to still have jobs had been reduced to working one or two days a week.

Wong Ping, the union’s chairman, said the coronavirus had forced many factories in mainland China to stay shut until a week ago, affecting the amount of building materials that could be brought into the city.

“The construction chain intertwines with one another. If we do not have some of the materials, we cannot proceed to the next step,” Wong said.

“For example, some workers can nail boards first [for shuttering], but without cement pouring in as the next step, you cannot proceed to nail boarding for the other floors.”

Chow Luen-kiu, the union’s former chairman, said the inability to ship some prefabricated parts for housing estates to Hong Kong had caused delays in projects.

This was because of border controls in some mainland cities, he said.

Although factories across the border have gradually resumed production, there were problems with labour shortages as many migrant workers could not get back to work as a result of the lockdown in many mainland cities.

Public transport and freight forwarding services had also been disrupted.

Private developer Chun Wo Construction Holdings said its building sites had been unable to resume projects as planned.

“Many of the materials have not been brought in from the mainland, such as concrete blocks, and the factories in China have not resumed totally,” Stephen Lee Ka-lun, the firm’s CEO, said. “It affected all kinds of projects, and it stopped the following procedures.

“At the same time, we have to separate the workers at the sites to prevent them from getting infected by one another, and that will slow the project speed as well.”

David Kwok Chun-wai, co-managing director of New World Construction, said work at their sites restarted on Monday, but the firm had also suffered from the closure of factories across the border.

“But we are not sure about the impact yet, it’s still too early to predict any delays in finishing time,” he added.

Electrical and mechanical workers have also been affected, said Rocky Poon Lock-kei, executive director of the Hong Kong Federation of Electrical and Mechanical Contractors.

“But we hope the effects are small and temporary, as factories in China are resuming work again,” he said.

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