With the “old-age tsunami” looming on the horizon, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong wrote on his blog on Sunday that the government would need to build at least 62 to 70 residential care homes for the elderly over the next seven years or so to meet growing public demand.
While finding enough land to build these facilities may prove a daunting task, finding enough people to staff the facilities may be even more difficult.
A manpower survey carried out by the Social Welfare Department in 2017 indicated that the staff vacancy rate in the elderly service sector stood at a staggering 18.8 percent.
The lack of manpower in the industry saw a slight improvement in the last two years, but the staff shortage in local residential care homes remains at a severe level, according to people familiar with the situation.
As such, they are anything but optimistic about the findings of the manpower survey.
One major factor behind the current shortage of residential home care workers is that residential care homes in our city have to strictly follow the staff-to-resident ratio laid down by the law.
Also, since effective communications between care workers and residents are key to high-quality service, most residential care homes would prefer to hire people who can speak fluent Cantonese, thereby restricting the size of their labor pool.
For a period of time in the past, the government has been importing qualified residential home care workers from Guangdong province via the Supplementary Labour Scheme, but the policy is increasingly losing momentum.
That’s because the mainland itself is also increasingly running out of care workers, and more and more operators in the industry across the border are willing to pay competitive wages to compete for talent and retain their staff.
Since importing carers from the mainland is no longer a sustainable option, there have been mounting calls in the industry that Hong Kong should consider importing “non-Chinese” foreign carers.
It is understood that both the Philippines and Indonesia are highly interested in exporting their talent specializing in looking after seniors to Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, even if local nursing homes are seeking new blood from among foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) working in the city, it is unlikely to have any profound implications for the local FDH market.
While there are currently some 380,000 FDHs in Hong Kong, there are only several thousand vacancies available in the elderly service industry.
However, it won’t be an easy task for local residential care home operators to get the green light for importing foreign labor from the Labour Advisory Board because the employee representatives elected by local unions on the board are unlikely to give the thumbs-up.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 21
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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