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Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022

Hong Kong’s renovations hit by worker shortage, supplies stuck across border

Hong Kong’s renovations hit by worker shortage, supplies stuck across border

‘Two-month delay the norm’ in renovation jobs, because even when there’s opportunities, there are no workers.

Decoration firm manager Ronald Chau Kam-suen, 49, was desperately seeking workers in January to renovate an art gallery in time for his client’s planned launch in March.

“I needed 30 workers, but only managed to find 16,” he told the Post. “In the end, we had no choice but to delay the completion by a month. Luckily, my client was understanding.”

Since Hong Kong’s fifth wave of Covid-19 infections hit early this year, the renovation industry has been reeling from an acute shortage of decoration workers, a crunch in the supply of building materials and rising costs.

Many workers were either infected with the coronavirus or too afraid of taking up jobs for fear of falling ill. Some projects were postponed as clients preferred to minimise the risk of infection.

Chau, senior project manager of Yat Sing Design Decoration Engineering Ltd, said the company had suffered losses throughout the pandemic and he was anxious to complete his gallery job on time and avoid paying a penalty for being late.

Although his client was understanding and postponed his opening event, Chau said: “One month’s delay also meant a loss of one month’s revenue, as we lost the opportunity to take up other projects.”

His company is among about 25,000 in the construction sector battling aggravated delays and losses during the current Covid-19 outbreak.

Focusing mainly on design and renovation projects for commercial premises such as shops and hotels, he said the firm suffered a sharp drop in business over the past four months.

Projects were held up by the shortage of workers, rising costs and a breakdown in the supply of building materials and furniture from mainland China as a result of lockdowns there, he said.

“Many workers didn’t want to take risks during the fifth wave and switched to working on the government’s makeshift isolation facilities or became security guards to earn a stable income,” Chau said.

Many workers have been hesitant to take risks during the fifth coronavirus wave and have opted to take up more stable jobs.

Landlord Katherine Or, 42, who owns a luxury flat in the West Kowloon residential complex The Arch, said she had lost a substantial amount of rental income when no workers were available to renovate her 1,300 sq ft property.

Or said she had a new tenant last November who was willing to sign a five-year tenancy but wanted the toilet and bathroom renovated first.

“The tenant offered to pay for the renovation cost of over HK$200,000 [US$25,497] but in early February he backed out of the deal as we couldn’t find any workers for the project,” she said.

“It was really difficult. One subcontractor got infected so he dropped out, while others could not guarantee a completion date because of the manpower crunch.”

Although the landlord found a tenant this week who did not ask for any renovations, Or said she had lost a rental income of more than HK$200,000 from the earlier fiasco.

Chau Lin-kin, chairman of the Hong Kong Renovation Practitioners Union, said the delays had been very serious this year as both workers and clients preferred to stay safe, while the supply of goods from the mainland had been greatly disrupted.

“The industry is facing unprecedented difficulties this year. On average, projects have been delayed by two months during the fifth wave,” he said.

“My company lost three projects over the past few months because we weren’t able to find enough workers. One project can sustain our livelihoods for several months.”

Crystal Choi, senior account manager of King of Property Consultants, said the biggest problem for residential properties was the late delivery of furniture and related accessories from the mainland.

“Many landlords like to order furniture and accessories from the mainland to renovate or decorate their homes, but now they have to wait months for their arrival,” she said.


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