• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 4:02pm


PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2003, 12:00am

ONE OF THE FIRST theories to take hold when the economic slump hit was that expatriate perks, such as massive housing allowances and paid school fees, would fly out of the window.

The theorists were right to a certain extent. Job lures to please overseas workers have been slashed in the middle-range positions.

Furthermore, waves of sackings have meant companies are on the other end of the employment spectrum for the moment. For those businesses downsizing - and that covers almost all sectors (from banking to retail) - dealing in perks is a distant memory.

Now local hires are becoming more commonplace and potential employees are not in a position to make demands.

But for top-end staff, being brought over from London or New York, there are still some serious benefits being agreed upon, according to industry sources. Damian Babis, director of Hong Kong-based headhunter Capital People, said that generally, staff in the middle-range executive positions were not getting the deals they did when the economy was on the up.

'Before, you had perks and a bonus and you would be looking for excuses to go up. Now the perks have gone and the bonuses are pretty much non-existent.

'Some people are getting small bonuses and the ones that didn't have such big ones before and used it to pay their tax bill are not getting it. A lot of people are saying, 'whose going to pay my tax bill?'.'

The banks have taken note. One major Hong Kong lender is reportedly offering employees 20 per cent interest to pay their tax bill on their credit card.

But Mr Babis added that while there were costs associated with bringing in a non-resident - transferring them, getting visas, sorting out a package - it still went on in the top executive positions, if a little less often.

'If people are being transferred in and they are saying there is a [financial] risk involved in such a change, they say, 'well I want protection'.

'So they are getting a pretty good deal - the bonuses, the education paid for the kids, the membership at a club and maybe a cost-of-living adjustment.

'These kinds of benefits occur when it is an internal move for someone from London or New York. That's as good as it's getting now. Even then, they are not happening very often.'

According to a spokeswoman for an international law firm, the non-legal staff being replaced are not getting the expatriate packages that were the norm until, roughly, the middle of 2001. The partners, she said, got their housing paid for, as would most of the lawyers.

'But the problem is, we've stopped bringing people out at the moment. We're taking everyone else on in local terms. We don't give them housing and we don't pay for annual flights home. Expatriate deals are incredibly rare now.'

Hong Kong's private-club culture has not, however, taken a beating.

That, it seems, is here to stay regardless of whether companies dole out token memberships to overseas employees. Individuals are propping up the membership totals.

A spokeswoman for a private sports and recreation club that offers everything from swimming pools to boat berths and a variety of gourmet restaurants said it was difficult to tell if the amount of corporate memberships being given to staff had fallen off or not.

If a company has a membership, they rarely withdraw it. A corporate membership may or may not be taken up by a newcomer to the company in the future, but the membership is still there regardless.

'So the numbers remain the same,' said the club spokeswoman.

'However, there have been liquidations of corporate forms in the past year and that would normally not be encountered.

'Still, that does not affect numbers of total memberships. In terms of the total, we actually have more than in previous years.'

The trend of less benefits for the middle-tier employees in other countries is similar, according to consultant company Hewitt Associates LLC. But what people really want seems to be a little different.

Hewitt in Britain recently found that job seekers rate flexible working hours as the best perk an employer can offer; far higher than a company car or gym membership. Almost 70 per cent of the 4,800 men and women surveyed said they were fed up with long hours and wanted a better work-social balance.

It may not be the Hong Kong way, but a perk is a perk.

Graphic: TAX11gwz


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