Japanese electronics giant Panasonic said yesterday it would pay employees sent to China a wage premium to compensate for the country's hazardous air pollution, in a possible first for an international company.
The move was part of a wider deal reached in Japan's annual labour talks, which saw major firms, including Panasonic and Toyota, agree to boost workers' salaries for the first time in years amid concerns about an economic slowdown after a rise in the sales tax next month.
A Panasonic spokesman confirmed the pollution-linked pay premium for its expatriate workers but declined to give further details, or say how many such workers it had in China, which has extensive trade and business links with Japan.
So-called hardship pay is not unusual for employees of foreign firms sent to work in China, but Panasonic is believed to be the first to announce a premium to compensate for polluted air.
A Panasonic document from the labour talks said: "As for the premium for expatriates to compensate for a different living environment, the company will have a special review for those sent to Chinese cities."
At the weekend, a top Chinese environment official said that air quality was below national standards in almost all China's major cities last year. Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to "declare war" on pollution.
Only three of the 74 cities monitored by the government met a new air-quality standard, said Wu Xiaoqing , a deputy minister of environmental protection, underscoring the extent of the problem, which has sparked health concerns.
The Panasonic document referred to so-called PM2.5 - small particles that easily penetrate the lungs and have been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths. Levels of PM2.5 in Beijing have repeatedly reached more than 400 micrograms per cubic metre, according to a count by the US embassy, more than 16 times the World Health Organisation's safety guideline of 25 micrograms.
The public has been increasingly angered by the severe environmental consequences of the country's rapid industrialisation, among them smog, land laden with heavy metals, and rivers contaminated by chemicals.