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LCQ3: Manpower in transport industry

     Following is a question by the Hon Frankie Yick and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):


     According to the Report on Manpower Projection to 2018, the total manpower requirement of transportation services, such as those of public buses, taxis, scheduled and non-scheduled public light buses (PLB), land transportation, passenger vessels, etc., will increase at an average annual rate of 1.4 per cent from 128 820 in 2010 to 143 980 in 2018.  The transport industry, however, has been facing manpower shortage and succession problems in recent years.  Some operators have relayed to me that since they have persistently failed to recruit sufficient scheduled PLB drivers, taxi drivers and passenger vessel crew, they have no alternative but to reduce service.  Such situation has not only affected service quality but has also stifled the continuous development of the industry.  These operators have projected that the shortage of drivers and vessel crew will only be exacerbated in the future, seriously affecting public transport services.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1)  whether it knows the respective current situations of the manpower supply of and demand for franchised and non-franchised bus drivers, scheduled PLB drivers, taxi drivers, container truck drivers and passenger vessel crew, including the numbers of persons in such positions (among them, the respective numbers and percentages of those working full-time and part-time), their average ages, the number of those who are expected to retire within five years, and the numbers and percentages of such positions which are vacant (set out the aforesaid information in a table);

(2)  of the measures taken by the authorities in the past three years to assist the transport industry in addressing the problem of manpower shortage, and set out in a table the effectiveness of the measures by the positions mentioned in (1); and

(3)  whether the authorities have considered new measures to boost the manpower in the transport industry, e.g. relaxing the requirement that applicants for driving licences to drive commercial vehicles must hold a valid full driving licence to drive a private car or light goods vehicle for at least three years, so as to attract more new blood to join the industry, and including professional drivers and passenger vessel crew in the Supplementary Labour Scheme to allow the operators concerned to import such workers from other places; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government is mindful of the manpower situation of the transport industry.  Different transport trades have repeatedly relayed that the labour market has become tighter in recent years.  Staff recruitment is not easy and there are signs that the workforce of the industry is ageing.  In response to the situation, the Government will formulate strategies together with the industry and will work with the trades at policy level if it is feasible and desirable.  We also hope that the trades will strive to improve working environment and remuneration and help young people understand more about the trades through different platforms, thereby attracting new blood.

     The consolidated reply to the various parts of the Hon Frankie Yick's question is as follows:

     According to the data that the Government has, the manpower situation of drivers of franchised buses, green minibuses (GMBs), taxis and container trucks as well as crew of passenger ferries are set out at Annex.

     In respect of the different classes of vehicles above, the sheer number of valid driving licences far exceeds the number of registered vehicles.  Hence, the fundamental issue is not about the supply of eligible persons.  Rather, it is about how to attract them (especially younger people) to take up employment in the trades.

     The problems pertaining to manpower supply faced by the different transport trades are not entirely the same.  Yet, there is something in common.  At present, the supply in Hong Kong labour market is becoming tighter and the unemployment rate remains relatively low.  The trades need to reduce staff turnover by improving working conditions and to attract new entrants by enhancing training and disseminating employment information.  The primary roles of the Government are to (1) join hands with the trades to actively promote training and re-training; and (2) review existing policy and relevant requirements concerning staff regulation to keep up with the times, thereby improving the overall situation of manpower supply.

     In respect of land transport, franchised bus and GMB operators have been attracting new blood through different means, such as improvement of salaries and welfare, hiring of part-time drivers to meet service demand during peak hours, etc.  Franchised bus companies have been trying to reduce the turnover of bus captains through improving the working environment and bus stop facilities as well as offering promotion prospects.  Meanwhile, the Government is studying the proposal to increase the limit of seating capacity of public light buses (PLBs). This should help improve overall operation, hence conducive to retaining and recruiting drivers.  Currently, there are a total of more than 220 000 holders of taxi driving licences.  The main issue faced by the trade is the difficulty to attract new entrants.  We are studying how to improve the service of ordinary taxis and the introduction of premium taxis so as to facilitate the overall development of the trade and improve remuneration. This should help attract new blood.  Transport Department (TD) promulgates guidelines on working hours for drivers of franchised buses and GMBs in order to promote the improvement of working conditions.  The Department also liaises with relevant support organisations and the Correctional Services Department, and encourages operators to employ ethnic minorities and rehabilitated inmates.

     As regards container truck drivers, the number of drivers holding container truck driving licence far exceeds the number of registered container trucks, showing that there should be adequate supply of qualified drivers in the labour market.  TD will continue to communicate with the trade, keep in view the demand for container truck drivers including cross-boundary drivers, and liaise with the Employees Retraining Board and relevant organisations with regard to training needs.

     As for the maritime and aviation industries, the Government launched the $100 million Maritime and Aviation Training Fund (MATF) in 2014.  Training, exchanges and incentive schemes have been set up to groom talents, attract new blood, and raise the overall professional standards of the industries, with a view to supporting their long-term sustainable development.  Besides, MATF has launched the Local Vessel Trade Training Incentive Scheme (Note 1), and has joined hands with training institutions and trade unions (Note 2) to roll out courses that meet the needs of local seafarers (Note 3).

     Furthermore, the Airport Authority Hong Kong has set up an Airport Transportation Liaison Group (Note 4), which strives to enhance transport services to and from the airport (Note 5) with a view to encouraging more people to work on the airport island.

     In terms of staff qualifications, drivers of franchised and non-franchised buses, PLBs, taxis and container trucks have to hold the relevant driving licences of commercial vehicles.  The law requires that an applicant of these driving licences must hold a valid licence to drive a private car or light goods vehicle for at least three years (Note 6).  TD is reviewing whether it is possible to shorten the requirement with a view to attract more new entrants.  The target is to strive to complete the review within this year.  As regards the local vessel trade, the Marine Department (MD) has reduced the sea service requirement for local seafarers who have completed specified professional courses, so as to shorten the time required to attain the coxswain certificate.  At the same time, MD has published examination guidebooks to further increase the number of local coxswains and engineer operators (Note 7).

     On the suggestion to import labour, to ensure local workers enjoy priority in employment and to safeguard their salaries and benefits, in the event that employers are genuinely unable to recruit the necessary workforce locally, they may apply under the "Supplementary Labour Scheme" (SLS) of the Labour Department to import workers at technician level or below.  As for commercial drivers, TD has issued around one million valid commercial driving licences (Note 8), while there are 90 000-plus licensed commercial vehicles.  The crux of the issue is thus how to attract qualified persons to actually take up employment in the trade concerned.  In view of this, the proposal to import commercial drivers must be considered most carefully.  The livelihood of local drivers must be taken into account.

Note 1: Under the Scheme, financial incentive of up to $30,000 is provided to eligible deck or engine room ratings newly employed by the trade.

Note 2: Including the Vocational Training Council and its Maritime Services Training Institute as well as Hong Kong Seamen's Union.

Note 3: Such as the "Certificate in Basic Training for Local Craft Ratings" and the "Basic Radar Operations (Hong Kong Waters)" courses etc. launched in 2015.

Note 4: The Group was set up in late 2012 and is chaired by the Authority.  It comprises representatives from business operators on the airport island (i.e. human resources personnel from major companies on the airport island), public transport operators and TD.

Note 5: In addition to the Airport Express and a total of more than 40 day-time and overnight bus routes, there are about 160 employees' service routes arranged by employers.

Note 6: An applicant of container truck driving licence must hold a valid licence of medium or heavy goods vehicle.

Note 7: MD published earlier this month examination guideline to help local crew prepare for the Coxswain Grade 3 Certificate examination.  A similar examination guidebook on Engineer Operator will be produced later.

Note 8: Commercial vehicles refer to private light buses, PLBs, taxis, private buses, public buses, franchised buses, medium good vehicles, heavy good vehicles, articulated vehicles and special purpose vehicles. As each driver may hold more than one commercial driving licence at a time, the actual number of drivers should be smaller than the number of driving licences issued.  For instance, a driver may hold licences to drive a PLB and a taxi at the same time.  Two commercial driving licences all involved in this case.

Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:14


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