Monday, 24 February 2014

Singapore's Talent Flow Concept

Could Hong Kong have mainlanders shuttling into the city daily to work?
A Singaporean has come up with a way for Hong Kong to solve its labour woes and housing shortage -- allow workers from the Pearl River Delta to commute to the city to work.

The brilliant plan comes from Paul Cheung, who was director of population planning in Singapore from 1986 to 1996. This is what the Lion City does at the moment -- 150,000 workers commute daily from Malaysia.

He says this idea is doable since transport links between cities in the Pearl River Delta region will be even better in 30 years.

"Importing labour is a very outdated concept, especially for Hong Kong. It should look at it as talent flow across the Pearl River Delta region," Cheung said.

"The core problem for Hong Kong is urban pressure. If the city adopts the flow concept, the loading on Hong Kong will be less," he added.

The Hong Kong government had planned to import more overseas workers to beef up the labour force which is expected to contract in 2018.

Cheung also gives the example of when he worked in New York as director of the United Nations Statistics Division, he said some workers commuted from the neighbouring state of Connecticut to Manhattan.

"There is no travel restriction between New York and Connecticut. People in Connecticut now can freely move to New York and work there and move back in the evening. The same can be true for Zhuhai and Shenzhen down the road," he said.

He is obviously unaware of the rising tensions in Hong Kong between locals and mainlanders. If they did cross the border to work in Hong Kong everyday, how would they be able to integrate?

While the majority of those living in the Pearl River Delta already speak Cantonese, there are so many cultural issues between Hong Kong and mainlanders that even trying to iron them out in a rational way would be overwhelming.

Cheung seems to have a simplistic view of the situation, just looking at it from a numbers point of view. Workers commuting between Connecticut and Manhattan is different from those crossing the border from Shenzhen or Zhuhai to Hong Kong to work.

Nevertheless he made an interesting observation after reading Hong Kong's consultation report.

"I don't get a good sense of what Hong Kong will be like 30 years down the road. There is no vision for the urban environment of Hong Kong, the liveability... as a home. It focuses only on... 'human capital' but ignores... other key issues, like pensions and elderly housing."

At least Cheung has that right.


  1. Hi there --

    Would like to know the breakdown for mainlanders in Hong Kong: i.e., how many are tourists (and I'd stipulate that these are people who spend more than a day here), how many are parallel trader types (who cross the border multiple times in a day), how many live across the border and come to Hong Kong to work, how many have are something else altogether, etc.

    The way I see it, the mainlanders that many Hong Kong residents dislike are actually the parallel traders and those who treat Hong Kong as nothing more than a shopping mall. Indeed, even while those coming to Hong Kong to work may be competing for jobs with locals, I don't think they're necessarily the ones that Hong Kongers are billing as "locusts".

    1. I'm just thinking in terms of training staff on how things are done in Hong Kong that they may not be used to or understand why we do things the way we do. But just the fact that someone is suggesting we should have more mainlanders come here to service our needs will not fly with the general population...

    2. Re the mainlanders servicing the needs of the general population: that may not work but at the same time, we do have mainlanders doing such as working on the "China Desk" of certain publications.

      And when looking at the case of Singapore: I know of many Malaysians working in Singapore as engineers, chemists and the like. Maybe certain mainlanders can fill up the job slots in Hong Kong that aren't filled by Hong Kongers and are, instead, presently filled by those from further afield...

    3. Hong Kong needs people to do the work locals don't want to do... can you imagine them waiting on tables or building roads, washing laundry and answering phones at call centres?!

    4. Sure re Hong Kong needing people to do the work locals don't want to do. But there's also work that locals can't do... and maybe some others, including some mainlanders, can.

    5. So what kind of work can mainlanders do that locals can't?

  2. Hi again --

    I'm thinking in terms of a case by case basis. Surely there are some mainland individuals who are more qualified for certain jobs than local Hong Kongers -- or people from elsewhere in the world?

    But to name just one category: How about Putonghua teaching?

    1. Probably only that one....!!!! Or if they are experts in a particular academic field of study or have Chinese government connections, but other than that... not really!